How One Library Digitized Its Community’s Newspapers
Researchers enjoy a rich, accessible archive in Winona, Minnesota
Posted Wed, 07/20/2011 - 09:55
Random newspapers without benefit of a curator
The Winona Newspaper Project, an open, noncommercial digital archive, is providing access to a number of historic periodicals of Winona, Minnesota, a mid-sized city in the southeastern part of the state. The project is an indispensable resource for Winona State University’s Darrell W. Krueger Library and university faculty and students, as well as for local journalists and historians.
The success of the Winona Newspaper Project has hinged on decisions made by state legislators, newspaper publishers, university administrators, and librarians. The project is unique in that it has been financed exclusively through funds from the Krueger Library’s acquisitions budget. Considering the current economic climate and the financial constraints under which many libraries are operating, it is remarkable the project came to fruition.
The digital archive contains over 385,000 pages encompassing 116 years of reporting by four newspapers: the Winona Argus (1854 and 1857), the Winona Daily Republican (1860–1901), the Winona Republican-Herald (1901–1954), and the Winona Daily News (1954–1976). Each digitized issue can be browsed in its entirety. Additionally, each page of each issue is fully indexed and keyword searchable, including articles, advertisements, and photos.
Law becomes a boon to libraries
The Krueger Library began digitizing Winona’s community newspapers in 2004, but the history of the project can be traced to 1998 and a Minnesota supplemental-funding appropriation for higher education (S.F. 3297) that designated a portion to be appropriated to academic libraries. That funding, in the amount of $73 million, was to be divided between the two Minnesota higher education systems: the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU), of which Winona State University is one of 32 institutions.
Within that supplemental funding, MnSCU initially requested $1.2 million in one-time funds for the system’s libraries, but with the cooperation of the 80th Minnesota Legislature, the law designated $3 million for the “acquisition of library materials and equipment.” Minnesota Representative Gene Pelowski, one of the sponsors of the bill, is quoted in the Minnesota House of Representatives Session Weekly as saying that MnSCU libraries had been “grossly underestimated and underfunded” and that the libraries had “become resource centers for the regions they serve, and not just the students, and the funds would help the libraries meet these needs.”
The 1998 law did not mandate the purchase of any particular type of materials or that the funds be used for any specific projects. System libraries spent much of these funds filling the gaps in their monographic collections and building collections that would support campus initiatives.
The language in S.F. 3297 applied only to the 1998–1999 biennium; since it did not explicitly state that the funds were to be recurring, they were absorbed into the MnSCU base-budget offering to the Minnesota State Legislature. During the 2000–2001 biennium, MnSCU retained the original legislative mandate and appropriated the $3 million to the system libraries. Then, in the 2002–2003 biennium, MnSCU allowed individual campus administrations to decide how these additional funds would be appropriated.
Several system libraries no longer appropriated the funds to their budgets. But the Winona State University administration decided that $212,000 of supplemental funds continue to be appropriated to the library’s budget, and thus the library was able to build the Winona Newspaper Project. The supplemental funding would cover the expenses, which included the digitization services, an annual hosting fee of $8,000, and the purchase of archival master microfilm reels from the Minnesota Historical Society and Heritage Microfilm.
Building an expansive archive
The library was unable to commit personnel time to digitizing the newspapers and contracted the project through OCLC Digital and Preservation Resources, which used Olive Software for digitization projects. Olive was capable of digitizing a considerable amount of quality content within a short period of time and offered a hosting service. When OCLC ended its partnership with Olive Software during the project’s first year, the library contracted directly with Olive for the remainder of the project. Even though the library was appropriated supplemental funds, the librarians evaluated collection needs (i.e., monographic materials and subscription increases) before any funds were dedicated to the project. Thus, depending on collection development needs, the library has spent varying amounts each year on the project. During the first year, the library spent approximately $169,000, and in this most recent year of the project, the library spent around $98,000. To date, project expenditures total $423,000.
It took more than funds to realize the project, of course. In order to build an expansive archive, officials had to approach the copyright holder and current community daily newspaper, the Winona Daily News. Before the newspaper agreed, it had to consider the ramifications of releasing the copyright, thus relinquishing possible future revenue from charging a fee for archived content. Editor Darrell Ehrlick explained in an interview that the breadth of the project and the opportunity to have the newspaper fully digitized was a compelling-enough reason to release the copyright. Daily News officials also considered the partnership with the university to be positive and worthwhile. The newspaper granted a limited copyright release to the library, which means that Winona Daily News remains the copyright holder but has granted the library the use of the newspapers for the digital archive.
Since the library began tracking usage in 2007, the Winona Newspaper Project has had over 46,000 visits from more than 60 countries and all 50 states. Not surprisingly, the primary users of the digital archive are located in Winona. The archive is used extensively by members of the WSU teaching faculty in the History and English departments for assignments in which students research topics related to local history. Local historians have relied on the digital archive for articles on topics ranging from an early-20th-century Winona botanist to the keyword-searchable advertisements of local grocery stores. Local journalists have also combed through the archive to research topics that provide a historical context for many of the stories they are currently developing.
The library reached an important goal in fall 2010: The newspaper project now includes digitized content through 1976. That brings the archive through the Vietnam War, a topic that is taught and researched at Winona State University. With the library facing additional budget cuts, it is uncertain whether it will expand the project. However, if funding becomes available, the library hopes, with the cooperation of the Winona Daily News, to extend the archive into the 1990s.
It would have been tempting to recommend to the WSU administration that these supplemental funds be allocated for standard library acquisitions. However, continuing to use these funds for digitization presents a unique opportunity to build a resource of lasting use for the campus community and the region.
ALLISON QUAM is an assistant professor in the Darrell W. Krueger Library at Winona (Minn.) State University.