Library to offer online archive

ESCANABA – The Escanaba Public Library’s collection of old and historical local newspapers soon may be available online in an easy-to-search format.

“It’s something we’ve wanted to do for a long time, and the timing is very good right now. We’re considering this the Friends of the Library’s gift to the community in celebration of esky150,” said Carolyn Stacey, library director.

The library’s collection of Escanaba newspapers, including the Daily Press, is archived on microfilm with issues dating back as far as 1869. However, searching for a specific item in the collection can be a daunting task.

“It has a very limited handwritten index that volunteers have worked on over the years that’s not all that useful,” said Stacey. “To access that stuff, people have to come in, put these reels on a giant old machine, and just crank through them until they find what they’re looking for. The image quality is bad. It’s very difficult to find anything at all.”

To simplify the process, the library sent a portion of its newspaper collection to Grand Rapids, to be scanned. Using a process known as optical character recognition, individual characters on the pages were identified in the scanned newspapers, which produced searchable documents.

“We’re going to put that into a web interface so that users can go to our website and search for information just the way they would anything else online,” said Stacey.

The first section of newspapers are expected to be available for web searches sometime during the Escanaba’s sesquicentennial celebration, thanks to funding from the Friends of the Escanaba Public Library.

While the library’s collection includes present day newspapers, the currently digitized section dates from 1869 to 1926. The library intends to continue digitizing the collection as funding becomes available. The cost of converting the papers in the first group from microfilm to the new digital system was roughly $7,500.

“It’s a giant collection and to do it all at once (is) really prohibitively expensive,” said Stacey.

By purchasing the software to host the newspaper collection online, the library can now use its own scanners to digitize other collections that are not on microfilm.

“We can scan and put our yearbooks up online or any of our other local history collections that we’re interested (in),” explained Stacey. “So it’s really an avenue for us to develop more of our historical, digital collections and archive Escanaba’s history.”

No matter what historical documents the library choses to digitize, Stacey believes there is value to making the items available online.

“As long as the technology has been there or the opportunity has been there, librarians (could) recognize the great potential of digitizing and making it available,” said Stacey.