Historical Headlines

LSU librarians work to preserve state’s newspapers

Work begun by LSU Libraries in 1945 today allows public access by computer to about 30 Louisiana newspapers published between 1860 and 1922.

By the end of September, 100,000 pages from about 60 Louisiana papers (1860 — 1922) will be available by keyword search at http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/search/pages, said Elaine Smith, head of LSU Libraries’ Special Collections. The website is hosted by the Library of Congress.

“The big challenge in research and preservation is figuring out how to preserve and access the late 20th century,” said Athena Jackson, project manager for digitizing LSU Libraries’ Louisiana Newspaper Project.

“From the mid-1970s to present,” she said, “academics, writers, government officials have been using computers to create historical record. In the 1990s, it really mushroomed. What does that mean to paper-based archives? It’s not a tangible piece of paper but a file. Now, historians may upload their digital records to a repository maintained by a library instead of dropping off their papers in a box.”

LSU Libraries’ newspaper project stops at 1922 because of copyright concerns, Jackson said.

“The emphasis is bringing historical newspapers to readers and researchers accustomed to online information access,” she said.

Historians employed by the Great Depression-era Works Progress Administration suggested that LSU Libraries begin preserving the state’s newspapers.

By 1945, the library’s Special Collections Division was on its way to becoming the primary microfilm source for Louisiana newspapers.

In 1984, a $293,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities let LSU hire librarians to travel the state to look for newspaper archives at colleges, museums, historical societies and newspaper offices.

In 1987, a $125,800 NEH grant led to the 1991 Louisiana Newspaper Project (LNP) catalog. For more information on the LNP, go to http://www.lib.lsu.edu/special/cc/dlnp.

Subsequent NEH and Louisiana Board of Regents grants funded microfilming and digitization of state newspapers. Grants since 1984 total $1.2 million, $770,280 federal and $478,500 state.

Microfilm is a good preservation method, Smith said, but it’s hard to use and there are no indexes to the newspapers.

Once digitized, the newspapers are searchable by anyone with online access at no charge, she said.

“They can search for place names, family names or topical keywords like ‘yellow fever’ or ‘suffrage,’ ” Smith said.

“NEH wants you to demonstrate that you have some concept of how massive this undertaking is,” said Gina Costello, digital services librarian at LSU’s Hill Memorial Library.

“We did a test project in-house, digitizing early issues of Louisiana newspapers. Another key was that we hold 99 percent of the master microfilm negative reels for Louisiana newspapers,” Costello said.

There are about 12,000 reels of microfilm covering state newspapers from 1794 to present, she said.

HTC Global Services, a Michigan company, is digitizing the reels at its office in India, Jackson said.

The 60 newspapers selected for the Chronicling America website were selected from 578 Louisiana newspapers.

An advisory board of history and journalism scholars, archivists, K-12 teachers and LSU librarians selected the newspapers to be digitized.

Michael Taylor, assistant curator of books at Hill Memorial Library, was handed the job of writing 500-word essays for each of the 60 newspapers.

The essays might touch on the prominence of publishers and editors in their communities, historical information on the towns and parishes in which the papers were published and whether the newspapers were for a general readership or specialized in agricultural or women’s news.

The Alexandria Lumberjack was a labor paper supporting the Brotherhood of Timber Workers and the Merryville strike of 1913.

Taylor drew the praise of an NEH editor for his essays.

“Some of the papers, I struggled to find 500 words,” Taylor said. “Others, I could have gone on for 1,500 words.”

Marie Louise Garner, of the East Carroll Banner, promoted civic improvements, education, temperance and economic development in northeast Louisiana of the 1880s.

Rival male editors of the Lake Providence Democrat questioned a woman’s ability to understand economic and business news.

After losing her bid for public printing in East Carroll Parish, Garner moved to New Orleans where she became a leader in the suffrage movement.

May Edna Leake and husband William Walter Leake founded the Bayou Sara True Democrat in 1892 to “make war” on the Louisiana Lottery.

The Louisiana Lottery was a private corporation that provided revenue for the state, but was “seen as a corrupting influence on state government,” Taylor writes.

The Woman’s Enterprise was started in Baton Rouge in July 1921, less than a year after passage of the 19th Amendment which gave women the right to vote.

Published and edited by Mattie B. McGrath, the newspaper “encouraged women to register to vote, reported on women’s volunteer work and education and published sketches of local professionals to help young women choose a career,” says Taylor’s essay on the paper.

Taylor curated an unrelated exhibit called “A History of Reading in the Bayou State.” The exhibit on the first floor of Hill Memorial Library includes rare books, Huey Long’s Bible and “The Young Lady’s Guide to the Harmonious Development of Christian Character” in which the author lists his reasons young women should not read novels.

Hill Memorial Library, situated in the northwest corner of the LSU Quadrangle, is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The digitized archives of The Advocate and the State-Times from 1843 to present are expected to be available at http://www.theadvocate.com for a nominal fee by late fall, said Judy Jumonville, The Advocate’s library manager. The Advocate’s and State-Times’ archives weren’t part of the LSU newspaper project.