Tuesday, September 17, 2013

National Digital Newspaper Conference

by Frank Boles

Annually, the awardees responsible for the National Digital Newspaper Program meet at the Library of Congress to discuss projects and possibilities in this nationwide effort to bring millions of newspapers online and make them freely available to the public. The Clarke Historical Library is the focus of the project in Michigan, and thus Kim Hagerty and Frank Boles spent several days in Washington last week, discussing online newspapers with their colleagues from more than thirty states.

The conference offers a wide variety of information, from suggestions about fundraising and publicity to the nuts and bolts of downloading free software from the Library of Congress to supplement locally available software. Because of the Library’s longstanding commitment to microfilming and digitizing Michigan newspapers, all of the sessions were of interest to the Clarke staff.

NDNP reception in the James Madison Hall
of the Library of Congress Madison
Building, with special guest U. S. President
James Madison, in statue form, of course.
Image courtesy Kimberly Hagerty.
Most intriguing to me was a discussion by three fundraisers, two of whom were professionals, on the long term sustainability of not-for-profit newspaper databases. An increasingly worrisome trend is the effort by various for-profit firms to “scoop up” publicly created microfilm, with an offer of “free digitization” provided to the film’s owner if the owner agrees to allow a second set of scans to be placed in a database that is available only on a subscription basis. Many of us in the library community have become concerned about the commercialization of microfilmed newspaper resources that were originally created for free public access, and often made possible by either public funds or private gifts. For many of us, the goal is to both migrate the information on these microfilms into the online environment, and to do it in a way that continues to allow library users to freely take advantage of the papers.

Our hope is that through projects like the National Digital Newspaper Program, libraries can continue to offer the public free access to resources entrusted in our care. That is a goal I hope we can all agree upon.