Thursday, Jun 20, 2019

Harvard newspaper history to be digitized

The Harvard Diggins Library, 900 E. McKinley St., is on the forefront of modern library science technology under the guidance of Director Karen Sutera.

“We have newspapers on microfilm dating back from 1869. There is quite a lot of information in this collection from the local newspapers, but putting them in digital form is exciting for us and is something not very many libraries are capable of right now,” Sutera said.

The library’s current out-of-date microfilm reader is in need of repair. The staff looked into the possibility of purchasing a new reader, however the machine is quite costly.

“I am not sure what the shelf-life of the microfilm rolls is, but eventually they will get brittle, I assume. The technology is out there to digitize our entire collection,” she said.

Replacing the microfilm reader would have cost about $10,000. When Sutera and her staff looked at the cost of the reader versus digitizing the collection, she said it was simply a clear choice. She researched other libraries that had digitized their microfilm collection and looked at the finished product to be sure that she would have the results she wanted – most notably an effective, searchable database.

“The newspapers we have on microfilm that are set to be digitized are from the Harvard Herald, also known as the Harvard Herald/Independent and the Harvard Herald once again. They date from 1867-1986 with two missing years – 1970 and 1971,” she said.

“The very idea that the entire collection would be made available for free access to anyone anywhere is amazing,” Sutera said.

The staff has chosen Advantage Companies located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to complete the digitization. The microfilm is captured into a digital PDF that is uploaded to the library’s website and available to print.

“We visited libraries and looked at their finished product and believed that this was our best value. We were quite pleased with the results,” she said.

The library has 84 rolls of microfilm to digitize at a price of $90 per roll. Sutera said that she did not want to deplete the collection all at once, so she sends 20 rolls at a time. The first batch was sent out in late June and was received back in November. It is her understanding that all 84 rolls will be completed by the end of summer 2014.

She already has encountered success stories with the digitization. One of the benefits of having the material online is that a search is made much easier. The images can be read by anyone, anywhere and at any time.

Though there are some issues with the search engine due to the ink blots on some of the original papers, the accuracy of the searchable database has proven to be effective.

Many people who live out of state call the library with requests to have staff look up an obituary or article to have sent to them. Sutera said that just recently a woman in California called the library looking to do a search on a relative. She knew the year of death but not the month and was looking for an obituary.

The library staff assists in these searches when time allows, but Sutera was excited to try out the new searchable database as the dates fell within papers that had been digitized. After looking into the article herself, Sutera was excited to tell the woman that she could look at the articles on her own without making a trip to Illinois.

“This woman, who lived in California, was able to search the database on her own – without leaving the state – and not only was able to find the obituary she was looking for but also a plethora of articles about her family member. It is really, really exciting,” Sutera said.

Diana Bird, a Harvard resident and genealogy hobbyist, already has benefitted from the digital files.

“This is really an amazing resource for those interested in genealogy. There is no reason to have to sit at the library and sift through roll after roll of microfilm. You can really research from your own home,” she said.

“And it is a searchable database, which is just a tremendous asset. … I have written several articles about [the digitization] for the genealogical and historical societies with which I am involved,” Bird said.

“In fact, I had a client I was working with who was looking into two names in the Mt. Auburn Cemetery and the dates given were within the searchable database,” Bird said. She continued to describe the amazing amount of information that was accessible for a family who was in the area only for a short time.

Bird said that the database is extremely easy to use and that many area libraries are looking to the Harvard Diggins Library as a model for the transferring of increasingly outdated microfilm.

Sutera encouraged residents as well as non-residents to check out the files using the library’s website,, and look under “More Links” and click “Harvard Newspapers.” Viewers will see the actual newsprint, complete with advertisements, pictures and inkblots.