Local history made searchable
Possible grant to Waupaca library could digitize old newspapers
By James Card
The Waupaca Public Library has applied for a grant to cover the cost of digitizing 58,500 frames of microfilm.
On the microfilm are copies of old newspapers that date back to 1874.
Once this content is in digital form, it will be searchable by keywords and it will be an asset for anyone wanting to research Waupaca history.
The recent interest in ancestry and genealogy leads many people to the public library.
The Waupaca Public Library averages at least a couple requests per month for information that is only found on microfilm.
“We have people that write to us from all over the country asking for somebody to try and find something in a newspaper. We have volunteers that will go through that process for us because the staff doesn’t have time. It’ s hours at a time – especially if they can’t pinpoint the date,” said Peg Burington, library director.
Currently, to find specific information from the archive of old newspapers is a time consuming and tedious process.
The first step is to determine when the information appeared in the newspaper.
For something like a sports event with an obvious date, this is easier. For something that occurred during the span of a few years, the search is much more difficult.
The next step is to find the roll of microfilm that has the timeframe to be targeted for searching and spool it onto the microfilm reader. The reader is computerized and can be controlled by a mouse and the film can be advanced and or backed up. The newspaper text appears on a monitor.
From this point, finding information is a matter of time and individually scanning each page of the newspaper to zero in on the desired newspaper article.
“You just have to look and look and look, said Burington.
For this research, a donation of $15 is asked to be given to the Friends of the Waupaca Library – whether the requested information is found or not.
Often these requests are genealogy related, such as finding an obituary. If the request is too broad and time consuming, the person would have to do the research personally at the library.
Pandemic’s impact on microfilm access
One of the motivations for this project was th COVID-19.
Library services still continued through the pandemic. People could reserve materials online and get them via curbside pickup and obtain all kinds of content in digital form through the library website.
But not with microfilm: somebody has to be physically present to handle the microfilm and load it into the reader. This was one archive of material that was unavailable to the public during the lockdowns.
Once the microfilm is captured digitally and is put into a searchable format, the huge files of information need to be hosted and accessible online.
One option Burington has explored is teaming up with the Wisconsin Historical Newspapers Project which is a platform that provides digital access to Wisconsin’s historical newspapers.
This project is a group effort by the Wisconsin Public Library Consortium, the Wisconsin Historical Society, the Wisconsin Newspaper Association and Wisconsin Library Services.
The library has applied for a Wisconsin Humanities Recovery Grant that is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The title of the newspaper digitization project is “History at your Fingertips” and the amount requested is $14,040.
Burington expects to know by the end of the year if the project will receive funding or not.
Even if the grant is not awarded, this project will still be pursued. Local citizens have already donated money to be put towards the project.