On an almost daily basis, Marshalltown Public Library patrons sift through the library's 600 rolls of microfilm looking for obituaries, birth announcements or photos of ancestors. The film contains copies of the Times-Republican dating back to the 1800s. But finding exactly what they want isn't as easy as many would like.
"Unless you know the date and even the year, it is quite a chore to find material," said Sarah Rosenblum, library director.
However, with the help of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Iowa State Historic Society, the library aims to make those searches much easier. The endowment provided $300,000 to allow the historic society to digitize 100,000 pages of Iowa newspapers, making topics keyword searchable in the Chronicling America section of the Library of Congress.
T-R PHOTO BY DAVID ALEXANDER
A Marshalltown Public Library employee is shown here displaying Times-Republican microfilm from 1910 and 1940 to be digitally archived. A grant from National Endowment for the Humanities has allowed the Iowa State Historic Society to catalogue 100,000 pages of Iowa newspapers at the Library of Congress.
Carol Kirsch, project manager for the Iowa Digital Newspaper Project at the historical society, said the team sought high-quality microfilm from daily papers, selecting the T-R as just one of 11 newspapers across the state for digitization. The grant focused on archiving pages from no later than 1922, settling on 1910 for its archive year in order to catalogue the important events of World War I.
Although it might sound like a lot, with millions of pages from the era in existence, 100,000 pages is "nothing," Kirsch said.
In addition to being a daily paper, Kirsch said the papers selected for digitization needed to be papers of record, publishing official announcements such as board of supervisors' minutes and legal notices. The board also chose the T-R for its quality of coverage.
"A lot of older papers do not have much in the way of original content," she said. "(The T-R) had pretty good coverage statewide and good coverage locally."
The Marshalltown library has also begun working to fund its own digitization beginning in 1940, Rosenblum said. With the National Endowment for the Humanities grant funding the archiving of WWI, she said she thought it would be appropriate to have archives of World War II. Although it will likely take two to three years, and nearly $60,000, the library wants to digitize its entire collection.
The Community Foundation has already given $1,000 to help jumpstart the effort, Rosenblum said.
Catherine Noble, library director at the Gutenkunst Public Library in State Center, said her library has digitized copies of the State Center Enterprise. The ease of digitalization makes it popular with local history buffs who regularly use the archives to research genealogy or the historic significance of a local building.
The digital archives ensure that those records are there should a catastrophe strike the library. She said she regularly gets letters from former State Center residents living in California or Illinois.
"It's been a really nice anchor for people who are away," she said. "It has prompted financial support that we would not have had if we did not keep those people interested."