Decades of Park Record content added to University of Utah online archive
November 17, 2017
Sam Raddon, The Park Record turn-of-the-century editor who famously worked out of a tent when the newspaper's office burned to the ground in 1898, would have marveled at the technology that allows readers to access local news from anywhere in the world. Admittedly, even his successors are amazed by the volume of information that still churns under that venerable masthead.
But while Raddon's story has been immortalized in various plaques and publications, and even an exhibit at the Park City Museum, some current newspaper fans worried that Park City's more recent history might be lost in translation as readers moved from print to pixel. Among them was avid historian and former Park City Council member Sally Elliott, who rallied a group of newspaper, library and museum experts to extend and expand the University of Utah library's online collection of Park City newspapers.
The Utah Digital Newspapers site already housed an impressive collection of newspapers from around the state, including a century's worth of Park Records spanning from 1880 to 1980. But as anyone who currently lives in Summit County knows, the last three decades that were missing from the site represent an era of momentous change — including decisions and events that citizens are still trying to analyze, learn from and just reminisce about.
As Elliott, who is also an irrepressible political activist says, "It is much easier, now that we have the more recent content, to understand how we got to where we are now."
Like most historians, Elliott is a veteran of a long succession of cumbersome research technologies, from dusty library stacks to nausea-inducing reels of microfiche.
"They were all painful and time-consuming," she said, recalling long hours at the museum or the library.
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Her primary complaint? They were not searchable. Data hunters needed a near encyclopedic knowledge of the subject, already, in order to hone in on a name or a date.
The newly digitized content, which takes advantage of the latest advances in optical character recognition, makes relevant content much more accessible.
In fact, the University of Utah's J. Willard Marriott Library, which hosts the Utah Digital Newspapers site, debuted a new, more user-friendly home page and navigation system just this week. Readers can search for a term appearing in one or more of the state's newspapers, on a specific date or within a window of time and/or a page number or section.
Paired with a little assistance from Google, a hazy memory can be almost instantly confirmed with a crisp PDF featuring, for instance, an article about a deadly avalanche or the exhilaration of learning that the Olympics were coming to Park City.
The newly added content also includes the short-lived but colorful history of The Newspaper, which was published from 1976 to 1983 before merging with The Park Record. The collection includes the infamous GONE SKIING front page published Jan. 5, 1977, the day it finally snowed after a tedious drought, as well as a number of irreverent April Fool's Day editions.
The most recent effort, which drew on resources from the Park City Museum, the Park City and University libraries and The Park Record, also creates an ongoing process to prevent future gaps. According to Elliott, technical expertise from the University's digital team will make it possible to feed so-called "born-digital content" directly to the UDN website.
Gathering and preparing the content for "ingestion" on the site took nearly two years. According to Elliott, the original cost was estimated at nearly $250,000. However, advances in the technology, along with grants from Park City Municipal, Summit County, a RAP Tax Grant, Greg Schirf, Rocky Mountain Power and the Utah State Library, and a partnership with Ancestry.com, significantly lowered the out-of-pocket expenses. The Park City Museum has also agreed to help with future costs related to keeping the collection up to date.
"It was my goal to fix this so we never had to wait more than a year for new content," she said.
According to Kinza Masood, Director of the Mountain West Digital Library, that process was made a lot easier when Park Record publisher Andy Bernhard provided electronic versions of the pages published between 2004 and 2016. She added that the online collection will be much more stable and less vulnerable to deterioration than paper, to say nothing of the convenience of being able to pull up content at home or offices around the country, or the world.
The site, which houses collections for 148 titles in Utah, is already drawing positive feedback. According to the University's Digital Library Project Manager Tina Kirkham, people are drawn to newspaper archives for a variety of reasons — for genealogy research, fact checking, legal background, special areas of study, etc.
"I've heard people say that digitizing newspapers turbo-charges history," she said.
To access the online newspaper archives, visit digitalnewspapers.org.