July 23, 2018 | ° F

Rutgers library to digitize 100,000 pages of newspapers

Photo by Faith Hoatson |

Alexander Library earned a two-year grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to move 100,000 newspapers from microfilm archives to a digital format, allowing a greater number of students to read them.

Over the next two years, 100,000 pages of newspapers will be transferred from microfilm to a digital format, allowing the Rutgers community to read them without needing specialized equipment.

The Alexander Library received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to convert microfilms into digital files, said Caryn Radick, a digital archivist with the library. She took on the role of writing the grant application. 

Currently the committee is planning the project of turning newspapers that are on microfilms into digital files. Microfilms must be loaded into a microfilm reader to be read, and while libraries offer these readers, they are not easily transportable. 

First, the advisory board must select which microfilm newspapers to digitize, Radick said. The advisory board, with members from all across New Jersey, wants to select newspapers that are representative of the entire state.

The papers will come from the years 1836–1922, as detailed in the two-year grant. In the future, the hope is to reapply for the grant and be able to digitize more newspapers from the microfilm.

“The goal of this first cycle is to have 100,000 pages digitized,” Radick said. "However, this is (a) relatively small amount of papers in comparison to what is available. Certain papers will have to be prioritized."

The project aims to give people access to information that was unavailable before and does not want to replicate any newspapers that are already digitized, Radick said.

Digitizing the newspapers allows for them to be more useful to the general public and streamlines researching, Radick said.

By digitizing papers, they become more searchable and people can easily access all instances of a certain date, event or person, said Jessica Pellien, Rutgers Libraries' director of Communications.

“A lot of these microfilms aren’t held at Alexander … they might have to go down to the state archives or potentially elsewhere,” Radick said. 

The digitization will allow people to conduct research remotely, Pellien said.

The committee hopes to find newspapers that represent the whole state. But selecting which papers to digitize is a large part of the process. The newspapers are evaluated in terms of usefulness and historical relevancy.

There are no distinctions made between the different sections of the papers, Pellien said. The committee hopes the public can make use of the newspapers.

“We’re getting this tremendous resource,” Pellien said. 

For students and researchers, this make newspapers available from throughout the state in entirely digital form.

A conference was held for grant recipients, where the attendees were able to meet the new Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. 

“It was very reassuring meeting people who were several cycles in (this process),” Radick said. 

About 40 other states have also been working on the process of digitizing their newspapers, and Radick said New Jersey is relatively late to the party. 

“It always amazes me how something can be the sensation or the scandal of its day and nobody knows about it now,” Radick said.

At times, Radick searches for one topic, and then another headline catches her eye, so she learns something new and yearns to know more about it. 

“There’s a lot of potential for learning about the things you want to learn about, but also learning about other things that were going on at the same time," she said. "Any time you can help deliver that piece that they’re looking for that helps them know more of the story, that’s a great feeling.”

Faith Hoatson is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in linguistics and French literature. She is a correspondent for The Daily Targum.

Faith Hoatson

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