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Putting 134 years of The Park Record online

In the editor’s office at The Park Record is a stack of newspapers that’s about five-and-a-half feet high. Roughly speaking, that represents two years worth of local news.

Now let’s say you’re researching a book on Park City saloons, and you start with the first issue of The Park Recordin 1880. Can you imagine how long it would take to come up with a respectable list of stories from 134 years of newspapers (even considering that old issues of the paper were not as large as they are today)?

Before 2003 you had basically one choice you could sit down at the microfilm reader at the Park City Library and read and read and read.

Then came Utah Digital Newspapers (UDN), an ambitious plan spearheaded by the Marriott Library at the University of Utah to convert the available back issues of Utah newspapers, daily and weekly, into searchable digital files and post them online.

"The first thing we did back then, in January of ’03, was get a very large grant from IMLS, the Institute for Museum and Library Services, a federal agency, for two years, a million-dollar grant," said John Herbert, UDN program director. "And that’s when we proved the concept, built out the end structure and added a whole bunch of pages. We added over a quarter million pages in those two years."

Since then the database has grown to 1.65 million pages, Herbert said, and now includes, among others, 60 years of the Deseret News, 48 years of the Salt Lake Tribune, 50 years of the old Salt Lake Herald, 50 years of the Salt Lake Telegram and 100 years of The Park Record.

So how well does it work? Try it for yourself. Go to digitalnewspapers.org, select The Park Record and type in a name or another keyword of your choice. In seconds you’ll get a list of stories going back to the dawn of Park City.

"Once we got it up online and linked it from our website, the demand for it was just huge, and especially for us, for our staff doing research, it was incredibly useful," said Sandra Morrison, executive director of the Park City Museum, who has helped prepare several digitization grant proposals over the years.

But here’s the problem: If you’re looking for an article that appeared in The Park Record in the last 34 years, you’ll have to look somewhere else. The digital database ends in 1980.

The reason? Well, as with many things, it’s a matter of money. Andy Bernhard, The Park Record’s publisher, estimates that it will cost about $265,000 to bring the database up to 2004 (at which point an existing digital database covering the final decade may be available).

Herbert said the process of converting old newspapers into digital files is handled by iArchives, a Utah company now owned by Ancestry.com. The company charges $1.65 to convert one "hard copy" newspaper page or $1.35 if that page is on microfilm.

"One of the beauties of this project is that, when you get a little bit of money, you just go do those next number of pages, whatever that funding will allow," he said. "And we’ve just slowly, over time, brought The Park Record forward through various grants. And now, with this citizen group that Sally has organized, they’re focused on bringing it all the way up to 2004."

"Sally" is Sally Elliott, well known as a former member of the Summit County Council, the Park City Council and numerous other boards and commissions. Elliott said she was persuaded to join the cause by Sandra Morrison.

"This sounded like something I’d like to do," Elliott said. "And it should help people who are doing research over the past 35 years."

Elliott, in turn, formed a group that included Herbert, Morrison, Jane Washington, Park City Library Director Adriane Herrick Juarez and Summit County Library Director Dan Compton. Compton, with help from Herrick Juarez and Morrison, wrote a proposal for federal funds administered by the Utah Department of Heritage and Arts (DHA).

Compton said the federal funds ultimately went to other projects, but the DHA came up with state funds to support newspaper digitization projects in Park City and Springville. In addition to $10,000 from the state, the current Park Record project has received $10,000 from City Hall, and $1,000 from the Park City Foundation. Elliott said she is hoping to win a commitment of another $10,000 from Park City next year and $20,000 from Summit County spread over two years. She is also looking at other sources of funding including private donations.

Even though raising $265,000 may seem like a daunting prospect, Morrison isn’t fazed. "I’ve been working on this for 10 years not knowing where the money’s coming from. So I’m not worried about not knowing where the money’s coming from because there’s money. It’s going to be really creative and we’ll just keep finding different resources and plugging away at it."

Elliott’s citizen group also includes Marianne Cone, Steve Dering, Hank Louis, Greg Schirf and Jan Wilking, all longtime Parkites with a history of community service. They have something else in common: All were once involved, either as owners or employees, in The Newspaper, a brash 1970s start-up weekly paper that eventually merged with The Park Record in 1983. So it should come as no surprise that preserving the pages of The Newspaper in digital form is also in the cards.