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How will the Minnesota Historical Society preserve newspaper content?

For months, newsies have been complaining to me about Minnesota Historical Society budget cuts undermining newspaper archiving, but I never got around to reporting it. Thankfully, the Chaska Herald’s Mark W. Olson did, and he did a great job.

Olson notes the $200,000 microfilm lab “copied almost every page of almost every small Minnesota newspaper,” but fell victim in June to budget cuts. By law, newspapers still send copies to the Historical Society, but no one’s figured out an affordable preservation method. The problem is especially acute for smaller papers, Olson writes.

There’s talk of digitizing pages, the most expensive option that’s being done for some old archives via grants. Getting the digital page proofs papers send to printers has possibilities. Then there’s “web harvesting,” though such a mega-archiving doesn’t necessarily pick up all print content.

Having depended heavily on a Historical Society archive for a book I did back in 2000, I know how vital such collections are. One librarian notes people are at microfilm readers “all the time,” missing copies “are going to hurt,” and such archiving is a library’s “core function.” Hopefully, Olson’s piece can speed up whatever solutions emerge.

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Kimbers Cadieux on 12/17/2009 - 10:51 am.

    I understand budget cuts and the hard choices that must be made.

    But in looking at the Historical Society website, I notice that they have a matching donation/grant program going until the end of the year.

    I wonder if there is a way to earmark a donation to the Historical Society so that it goes to a specific area?

    I don’t mean to take away from other areas of historical significance but this is way too important to lose.

  2. Submitted by Thomas Olson on 12/17/2009 - 02:36 pm.

    I also used the newspaper microfilms extensively over the past three years in researching my book, Sheldon’s Gift: Music, Movies, and Melodrama in the Desirable City. The Hubbs Room is always busy and at times it’s difficult to locate a decent reading machine. Most of the use is by people researching family geneology. Such users also rely heavily on staff assistance. There is no fee for this great service. That’s nice. Still,many researchers have no trouble paying a fee to and others and gladly pay an entrance fee to see the museum’s exhibits. Why not at least make library use free to members (that’s just $50 or so) and charge others a fee. I know that the fee business sounds Pawlentyish but its easily justifable. Users of the research facilities at MHS aren’t the down and out. Those who object to a fee can complain to the gov.

  3. Submitted by Matthew Steele on 12/17/2009 - 03:56 pm.

    So papers have to send in a copy, in “analog” form, only to have it get re-digitized? What a waste! I’m sure most papers would be happy to send in a digitized standard, and the MNHS can define some quality controls, and the result would be BETTER than the status quo.

  4. Submitted by Ray Schmitz on 12/17/2009 - 06:27 pm.

    I appreciate the conflict between the harvesters, Google in particular, the publishers but is that a possible solution. Obviously, the microfilming is a 60th technology, digitizing allows data harvesting and indexing. When the Mormons did all of their microfilming of the public records their bargain was to provide a copy to the county, perhaps a tax or payment by the harvesters and the requirement to provide a copy to the historical society would be a compromise.

  5. Submitted by Richard Parker on 12/19/2009 - 02:14 am.

    During my last few years at the Star Tribune I wrote a regular short feature labeled “Retro,” and probably my favorite item in terms of original research was on Charlie Kelso, who joined the Minneapolis Police Department in 1915 as one of the first two black officers on the force. He became a detective lieutenant in 1938 and died of a heart attack in 1940. I found nothing about him in the Strib clips, nothing readily available in the Police Department files, but turned up a couple short articles in black weekly newspapers of the day (1915 and 1916) in the Minnesota Historical Society microfilms. If not for he MnHS, there would be no surviving record of Charlie Kelso’s career.

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