CEDAR RAPIDS — Millions of pages from past issues of The Gazette, dating back to 1883, are being made available to the public in a digital, searchable format thanks to a partnership between the newspaper, Cedar Rapids Public Library Foundation, State Historical Society of Iowa and a local company that specializes in digitization.
Jeff Kiley, chief operating officer of Advantage Companies of Cedar Rapids, said his company has been working community by community to audit all available physical material to see if it can be put on microfilm and later digitized as part of a project dubbed the IA History Project.
Kiley said Cedar Rapids is one of the first communities to be digitized. The project was announced in February and was unveiled by the State Historical Society with the hopes of preserving more than 12 million pages of Iowa newspapers.
“This one is more special because it’s in our backyard,” Kiley said.
So far, 2 million pages have been made available with 1 million more images expected to be added over the course of the next 18 months. Cedar Rapids papers separate from The Gazette, such as the Republican, or earlier namesakes like the Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette also have been archived.
The searchable database can be found at cedarrapids.advantage-preservation.com.
Funding for the project is coming from the Cedar Rapids Public Library Foundation, which has agreed to pay Advantage Companies up to $105,000 for the work, said Erin Horst, library materials manager.
The library currently offers access to digital newspaper archives through a database service offered by Newspaper Archive. The service costs the library $2,000 annually and it is available to library card holders. The general public can also subscribe to the service on their own to access archived newspapers from across the country.
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Library officials said they plan to continue offering that service through at least the end of the fiscal year when the current contract expires. There has not been a decision on whether that service will continue beyond that time.
Horst said the decision to enter a partnership with Advantage Companies centers on the fact that the library gets ownership of the archived content.
“Even if Advantage goes away for whatever reason, we’ll still have ownership and access to the images,” Horst said.
The current agreement is in place until 2020. After that, the library would have to negotiate a new agreement with Advantage Companies, Horst said.
Advantage Company has been able to gather materials — microfilm and bound copies — from the library, The Gazette and the State Historical Society.
“The exciting thing about doing this community by community is we can look up specific events and put into perspective how the local community reacted to those events,” Kiley said.
To digitize past editions of The Gazette, Advantage Companies officials had to make sure they were using the best available copy of the newspaper physically to preserve it in microfilm and digitize the product. Some newspapers from 1914 to 1920, Kiley said, have been harder to digitize because the papers were not preserved as well.
Many of The Gazette archives are preserved in microfilm, but not all.
“We’re still auditing physical papers as well to make sure we have the best available copy and we will then compare all the copies and preserve the best in microfilm,” Kiley said. “We want to make sure we got every page possible to find.”
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“It’s good to browse and look at paper,” Kiley said. “There’s something about flipping through pages and putting articles into perspective.”
Kiley said he was able to look up his grandfather in the archives using keywords such as his grandfather’s name and the company he worked for.
Jeffrey Brown, director of the IA History project, said archived pages up to 2016 are in the process of being uploaded to the database. Once those are up, he said, Advantage Companies will work to upload the first six months of 2017 and from there upload content on a regular basis, although there will be a lag of at least one month between when the newspaper is published and when it appears in the database.
Zack Kucharski, executive editor at The Gazette, said making the paper’s archives fully accessible to the public is a great service. He said the paper would not have been able to provide such a service if not for the partnership.
“We’re appreciative of Advantage’s approach and understanding of the value of the archive and their willingness to work as true partners.”
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