Thursday, July 28, 2011

So much fun!


Now I have one less reason to leave the house!
    EUGENE, Ore. -- On Feb. 4, 1910, the headline across the Medford Mail Tribune's front page announced "United States At Mercy of Foreigners." The story, based on the Army's General's Staff report, warned that the Japanese could land 100,000 troops on the U.S. Pacific Coast in three weeks, and the Germans "a trained army of 200,000" on the east coast.
    That's just one look-back-into-time experience to be pulled from more than 180,000 pages from 18 Oregon newspapers now available online through the University of Oregon newly launched website Historic Oregon Newspapers.
    The website, made possible through the Oregon Digital Newspaper Program ( (ODNP), is the culmination of more than two years of work by program staff at the UO Libraries, in collaboration with the Library of Congress, National Endowment for the Humanities and a number of state agencies and stakeholders.
    The site provides unprecedented access to "first-draft" historical materials originally published by Oregon journalists between 1846 and 1922, program officials said.
    "These primary source materials provide a unique window into the life of Oregon communities a century or more ago,” said Jason Stone, ODNP project manager. “In their own voices, early Oregonians tell the story of the state's industrial, agricultural and social development. We can revisit the ways that people in our state viewed and responded to major national and international news events of the day. There is also a great deal of information on topics such as race relations in early Oregon, the woman's suffrage movement, the pioneer days, Native peoples, urbanization, the emergence of environmental values … the list goes on and on.”
    Historic Oregon Newspapers was created using open source software developed by the Library of Congress. UO programmers helped troubleshoot the code and were the first to implement it outside of the Library of Congress. A separate blog site provides project updates and examples of studies users might do, including June 1 entry focusing on "Hawaiians in Northwest History."
    Content at Historic Oregon Newspapers is drawn from widely circulated titles like the Portland Oregonian and Salem Capital Journal, short-lived regional papers like the Sumpter Miner and Jacksonville Oregon Sentinel, and community-of-interest titles such as the first African-American paper in the state, the Portland New Age, and Abigail Scott Duniway’s suffragist journal, the New Northwest.
    While microfilm continues to be the preservation and archival medium of choice for newspapers, it has long presented serious issues of access and research value for the public. Comprehensive microfilm collections are often beyond the means of local libraries. And even when a copy of the film can be located, a researcher must spend hours, days, or even weeks scanning through the filmed pages, hoping to catch a glimpse of sought-after information.
    Navigating the Historic Oregon Newspapers website will be simpler and more intuitive for most computer users. All the digitized newspaper pages have undergone a process of optical character recognition, in which bit-mapped texts on scanned page images are analyzed and converted to vector-based characters.
    This conversion allows other computers to read the output text, allowing for rapidly completed keyword searches.
    “Having the ability to keyword search has dramatically improved the potential to use historical newspapers for research,” said Karen Estlund, ODNP director and head of Digital Library Services for UO Libraries. “The data provided are not only useful for the casual researcher but also provide extensive data-mining possibilities to analyze trends in history.”
    The utility of this resource already is being appreciated. “I'm really enjoying using the site. It is a tremendous help for a heavy newspaper researcher like me,” said Kimberly Jensen, professor of history and gender studies at Western Oregon University. Cricket Soules, a volunteer researcher for the Marshfield Pioneer Cemetery, agreed. “The same information it took us three hours to find on microfilm, we found in under 30 seconds using keyword searching on the website.”
    Essays with background information about each of the selected newspaper titles also available on the site, along with brief tutorials on searching and browsing, lesson planning materials for K-12 educators and answers to frequently asked questions.
    Beginning in 1953, the UO Libraries started the Oregon Newspaper Program to microfilm the state's newspapers for preservation. The web-digitalization project took root in 2009 under a Library Services & Technology block grant of $79,883 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services through the Oregon State Library in Salem. It was expanded by a $365,393 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for the National Digital Newspaper Program, an additional $246,880 under the Oregon Library Services & Technology program, and by matching grants totaling $181,046 from the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office and the Oregon Heritage Commission through the Oregon Cultural Trust.



  1. I appreciate that such measures are being taken to preserve Oregon history. The older I get, the more important I find history is to our future. It's wonderful that historical archives are moving into the realm of the digital; this will ensure their survival much better than microfilm. As for microfilm, when I did the Bayocean paper for my Pacific Northwest History class as an undergrad, part of the requirement was to visit whatever local museums/libraries/etc necessary to research primary sources for the paper. I spent many hours in the Tillamook library scanning microfilm for info on Bayocean. Wow, that was painful, but I'm glad I got to experience it at least once!

  2. Yeah, scanning microfilm did get tedious at times, but it could be so much fun! Like panning for gold, and coming up with flakes and nuggets. Using the digitized newspaper databases is even more fun, because it turns up so much more good stuff!