LPC Women’s Club donation supports library’s effort to put local history online

After inviting Hawkins Memorial Library Director Jolene Kronschnabel to speak at their most recent meeting, the La Porte City Women’s Club took immediate action to show their support for an ongoing project that will preserve local history and make it more accessible to the general public.

In addition to seeking input on how the library can better serve the community, Kronschnabel’s presentation included an update on the latest programs, activities and projects underway at the library. The local history project is a cooperative effort that involves the library, the La Porte City FFA Historical & Ag Museum, the La Porte City Historic Preservation Commission and The Progress Review.

The goal of the project is to preserve and disseminate the library’s collection of The Progress Review. Preservation of the back issues of La Porte City’s local newspaper comes in the form of converting the printed pages to microfilm. There are several reasons why microfilm is considered one of the best options for the long-term preservation of newspapers:

  • Microfilm allows libraries and other organizations to provide access to old, valuable and often times fragile collections through microfilm and microfilm readers.
  • Microfilm is compact, with significantly lower storage costs than paper documents or a digital archive. When compared to paper documents, microfilm can reduce space storage requirements by up to 95 percent.
  • Microfilm is also virtually cost free once filmed, while a digital archive does have maintenance costs associated with servers, data storage and upkeep.
  • Microfilm, if stored properly, can last for hundreds of years and accessed easily without the use of technology.
  • Microfilm can be digitized and made searchable for access on a computer.
  • Due to copyright, microfilm is still one of the best sources for researching old newspapers.
  • Microfilm is considered the archival standard.

The good news for local researchers is that Hawkins Memorial Library already has much of The Progress Review’s collection stored on microfilm, thanks to the State Historical Society.

The State Historical Society of Iowa has been a trustee of Iowa’s historical legacy since 1857. With a dual mission of preservation and education, it maintains a museum, archives and historical libraries, preservation office, and eight historic sites. These bureaus preserve and provide access to Iowa’s historical resources through a variety of statewide programs, exhibitions and projects while serving as an advocate for Iowa’s past and connector to the future.

Each week, The Progress Review sends printed and digital copies of its latest edition to Des Moines so that the State Historical Society can archive them. For many years, this process included converting and storing each issue on microfilm, a copy of which was added to Hawkins Memorial Library’s collection. Several years ago, state budget cuts eliminated the service of providing the local library with a copy of microfilmed newspapers. Currently, library patrons in La Porte City can use the microfilm reader at Hawkins Memorial Library to view copies of The Progress Review dating all the way back to 1873. The most recent copies in the library’s microfilm collection, however, only go to the year 2001.

While microfilm is an excellent choice for preservation, it is a decidedly less attractive way to disseminate information to a large number of people. The microfilm reader at Hawkins Memorial Library is designed primarily for single viewer use. And because scanning microfilm is a visual process where pages are manually advanced using a lever, it can be a very slow and tedious process to locate specific information. Digital records, on the other hand, utilize key word searches to quickly locate information about a particular person or topic.

Leaders at the local library, museum and newspaper agree that having 140 years of La Porte City history preserved on microfilm is very important. Equally important to having all of that local information gathered together, though, is the ability to search and access it from any location. For the library’s local history project to be truly useful, 140 years of The Progress Review must also be converted to digital records that can be searched online.

While Hawkins Memorial Library has much of The Progress Review available on microfilm, it has very little to offer by way of digital access to the newspaper’s archives. Individuals can go online and search www.theprogressreview.co for information. However, the content on The Progress Review’s website only dates back to 2013.

How does a library go about digitizing back issues of a newspaper? The most common and cost effective way involves scanning the issues already preserved on… you guessed it… microfilm! As Hawkins Memorial Library continues to move forward with this local history project, rolls of The Progress Review on microfilm will be shipped to a company that specializes in converting microfilm content into digital records that can be keyword searched. All of this digital information will be stored on a website that can be accessed from any computer. It’s a process that is both time consuming and costly, with estimates to preserve and digitize the library’s microfilm collection of The Progress Review projected at around $10,000.

That is why the local library, museum, newspaper and Historic Preservation Commission are working together on this project. It’s also why the donation made by the La Porte City Women’s Club, which will nearly pay for the digitization of up to 70 back issues of The Progress Review, is one that is very much appreciated by those passionate about preserving and sharing La Porte City’s history.