Library digitalizes Utah newspapers

By Rosemary Campbell, Staff Writer

The Marriott Library is digitally archiving newspapers from around the state of Utah, including original issues of The Daily Utah Chronicle, dating back to the late 1800s onto a public-friendly Web site.

In 2002, Kenning Arlitsch, head of information technology at the library, was working with digital collections and building the digital library when he discovered a way to digitize newspapers by converting them into a form that can be processed by a computer and is therefore searchable on the Internet. Titles from all over the state, such as the Deseret News, the Washington County News, the Roosevelt Standard and The Chronicle, have been digitized during the past six years.

Arlitsch hired John Herbert, head of digital technology at the library, in January 2003 as the project director. After receiving a large grant, the project took off. The Web site has grown from featuring 30,000 pages to 640,000 pages of old newspapers8212;most titles dating back to the 19th century.

“We’ve had phenomenal growth, not only in the content in building up the database, but in our users that visit us,” Herbert said. “We have a Web survey, so we know who comes in and what they come in to see on our site. They tend to be older; I don’t know many students that use the site. History seems to matter more to older people; I don’t know why, but it seems to.”

The Web survey on the site shows that the majority of visitors come to research family history and genealogy. Ardis Parshall, a freelance researcher, uses the site almost every day to help her find names, locations of people at particular times or general information about people to help with her research.

“Sometimes I have to get creative about my research, but it helps me out enough that I keep going back to it,” Parshall said. “I also write a column on Utah history for The Salt Lake Tribune and I draw a lot of my material from the old papers. The Web site helps me find stories that I can tell again.”

The process of digitally archiving newspapers is a time-consuming task. Much of the work is outsourced from the library to two companies, one in Provo that photographs each page in high resolution and one in Lindon that creates a text file and attaches it to the image in PDF, making every page and individual article searchable.

The files then come back to the library, where Jerry Kilmer, one of Herbert’s staff members, loads them onto the site.

For Parshall, the most beneficial aspect of this process is the index, which allows her to search for any event or person in Utah’s history. She has also noticed that people use it to find obituaries, as well as to know how ancestors died.

The Chronicle is the most recent addition to the Utah Digital Newspapers’ Web site. It took about two to three months to get 40 years worth of issues digitized, Herbert said. About 14,000 pages of The Chronicle are now available for reading8212;from the first issue in 1892 to the last spring issue in 1940.

“We typically go back as far as we can and then we come forward in time as far as our line will take us because older issues tend to be more interesting,” Herbert said. “Especially if they’re originals, there’s perhaps some risk of them deteriorating more, so we want to get them captured digitally.”

Will Bagley, a historian and published author in Salt Lake City, also uses the digitized newspapers frequently. In the past, he has found information on Indians native to Utah, Utah immigration, when people are born and when they die and he said he thinks it’s “a great portal for information on families.”

The best thing about this technology for Bagley is “the ability to access (newspapers) without the pain of microfilm,” he said. “It revolutionizes how we as historians do our jobs.”

Herbert is proud of what has been accomplished so far with the archiving. Six years ago, digitally archiving newspapers was a new idea and the library was one of the first in the country to try it, and the project is still growing.

“What we found was that people just love the content8212;it’s been bigger and more popular than anybody would have ever dreamed,” Herbert said. “These old newspapers contain world news, national news, state news, and even the county papers have all the local news.”

Herbert, Kilmer and their contacts in Provo and Lindon will continue to work on this project as long as funding is available. To access the archives, go to the Marriott Library home page and click on Utah Digital Newspapers under Digital Collections.

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