Utah newspapers go digital
May 9, 2007
"Glorious News Flashed Tuesday at 5 p.m. — ‘Japan Surrenders Unconditionally’" reads a bold Park Record headline dated August 16, 1945. The story explains that fire siren atop the Park City "shrieked to the populace of glad tidings," and later, there will be a public dance at the Miners’ Union.
The historic issue now joins hundreds of thousands of other Utah papers that have been scanned by the University of Utah’s J. Willard Marriott Library as part of the greater Utah Digital Newspapers Project. The product of the project is the Web site udn.lib.utah.edu a free online, keyword-searchable newspaper database accessible through any computer with an Internet connection.
Few newspapers, however, can boast a digital archive that begins in 1881 and continues through the 1940s. The Salt Lake Tribune has yet to scan a paper printed in the 20th Century.
The Park City Library, along with The Park Record and the Park City Historical Society and Museum pooled resources to pull off the third installment of papers from 1935 through 1947. To scan a page costs $1.65, according to Park City Library Director Linda Tillson.
"The older newspapers are not quite as long, but for newer papers, it takes more funds, because there are more pages to digitize," she explained.
The effort to archive Utah newspapers began in 2001 when the Marriott Library was awarded Library Services and Technology Act funding to research and demonstrate a newspaper digitization project. The University of Utah and its partner, Brigham Young University, have subsequently received national grants, including a grant from the National Endowment of Humanities to continue the project.
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Tillson says the main advantage to a digital archive as opposed to the standard microfilm archive is the index. With microfilm, a search for a person’s name or a place of business means sorting through strips of photographic film.
"We worked for a while with a consultant who was doing some indexing, but that was progressing rather slowly it certainly was not as good as searching by keyword in full text," she said.
But the new technology is not yet replacing microfilm, according to Marriott Library Interim Head of Digital Technologies Karen Estlund.
"A lot of people still consider microfilm the ‘preservation medium,’ since we don’t know the fate of digital copies and how long they will last," she said. "A lot of government agencies like the Library of Congress, consider Web sites to be the ‘access medium.’"
The library began to digitize newspapers with a few grants and some funding, she says, and now have managed to scan newspapers from all but two counties in Utah: Wayne and Daggett.
To put newspapers into the digital databank, the library "outsources" to a digital photo company, and then gives the images to iArchives, who runs a process called optical character recognition and optical word recognition, which takes the image of the newspaper and instructs a program to find keywords, Estund explained.
For smudged print often true of the oldest of newspapers the machine will match shapes and shades to letters and then words in the dictionary. "It’s not 100 percent accurate, but it does provide us with very good searching percentages," Estund said.
According to the Marriott Library’s online survey, 60 percent of the people visit the site for genealogical research and 24 percent visit for historical research. Of the visitors who took the survey, 41 percent arrive at the site on computers outside of Utah.
Recently, an Australian professor contacted Estlund by e-mail. "He told me how helpful the site was in giving him the materials he needed for his research as a faculty member on the cement industry," she recalls. "I mean, here’s professor all the way across the world who would have no other way to access that kind of information."
Park City Historical Society Executive Director Sandra Morrison says the museum, in preparation for its Historic Homes tour in June recently learned something new from a digital search for the Marsac Building, which currently houses Park City’s city hall.
Before ground broke to construct the Marsac Building as an elementary school in the 1930s, Morrison reports that part of the money used for construction came from the ground itself.
"The Marsac Building was built on a site of an old mill and when a mining assayer who was also a school board member pulled up some old wood, he recognized it as valuable ore," she says. "It turned out the soil was actually very high in valuable silver and gold it helped pay for the construction."
Morrison points out that the very newspaper with that information was one that was, and continues to be, stored in the museum itself. It’s difficult to sort through piles of newspapers (stored in boxes with climate control) for a word or phrase, and many of the hard copies of the newspapers are in need of repair, she says.
"The issue from 1898, when the Great Fire burned Main Street and most of Park City to the ground it almost looks like it was destroyed in the fire itself," she said, adding that many of the older newspapers are currently being repaired.
In fact, according to the issue of The Park Record, the records of most of the newspapers saved by then editor John Raddon did go up in flames. The Ontario Mines, owned by George Hearst, donated a private collection of issues to Raddon and have since become part of the museum’s archives.
Newspapers are considered a primary resource, since they are written at the time events are happening, says Morrison.
"It’s not just about Park City news The Park Record covered Heber, Kamas and Ogden," she said. "We use every single part of it the ads, the gossip column .Every part is valuable."
To search the digital newspaper online archives log onto udn.lib.utah.edu.