Digitizing a Newspaper Clippings Collection at LSU Health Sciences Center Library

The following chapter excerpt is from the first section of Digitization in the Real World; "Small is Beautiful: Planning and Implementing Digitization Projects with Limited Resources." Download the entire chapter for free (PDF)   or purchase the book at Amazon.com.

Access the collection here.

Author

Maureen M. Knapp (John P. Isché Library, New Orleans)

Abstract

How does a small specialty library establish, develop and maintain in-house digital collections? What are the considerations, challenges, and benefits they experience? This chapter describes one library’s experience in turning an aging and inaccessible collection of newspaper clippings into a preserved and searchable online collection, which in turn laid a basis for other digital projects. This chapter also discusses considerations, challenges and opportunities observed during their first foray into creating a digital collection.

Background

The John P Isché library is a mid-sized, urban, academic health sciences library serving six schools of health professions at the LSU Health Sciences Center (LSUHSC) in New Orleans, Louisiana. Established in 1931, the library has collected newspaper clippings related to the history and accomplishments of the health sciences institution since its inception, and even today monitors the local papers for pertinent news items. The “newspaper clippings file,” as it came to be called, is an astounding 70 year snapshot of the development of the health sciences in Louisiana. Over 6,000 clippings trace development of LSUHSC through the twentieth century, including such topics as: the people, places and events associated with the LSU School of Medicine, the growth of health infrastructure in Southeast Louisiana and New Orleans, and the development of 20th century health sciences education in Louisiana.

Digital Collection Origins

In 2002, access and preservation concerns with some of the earliest newspaper clippings encouraged the library to investigate digitization as a possible solution. Access points to the collection were limited. The only online access consisted of a locally-created subject database containing basic citations to newspaper articles from 1985 to present. Users had to search the local database by faculty name or department, and then locate the physical newspaper clippings in filing cabinets by call number. The remaining fifty-odd (1933-1984) years of the collection was indexed in a card catalog, stored in the library’s back offices and only accessible to library staff.

Numerous problems plagued the physical collection. The newspaper clippings had been stored in filing cabinets as they were collected, which allowed the typing paper to curl heavily over the course of many years. The newsprint itself showed signs of age: rust marks appeared where staples and paperclips had once connected pages, and gaps in the collection were apparent.

A lack of funding and staffing was another concern. Any efforts towards creating a digital collection would have to be inexpensive and make use of staff and resources the library already possessed.

However, to truly understand to physical condition of the newspaper clippings file, and the challenges that would arise once digitization began, one must understand the collection process of gathering the original newspaper clippings. While no documentation exists, the library postulates that even back to the 1930s, a library member would skim the daily local papers from around Southeast Louisiana for any mention of LSU School of Medicine, and its faculty, staff or students. Once an article was discovered, it was cut out of the paper, dated, and the name of the paper was noted. The articles were glued to standard 8 ½ by 11 inch typing paper, usually several to a page, somewhat in order by date, and the paper was assigned a numerical call number in the order they were received. Later someone would read the articles, underline named entities pertaining to LSU, and assign a subject heading, which was recorded in a small local card catalog. Finally, the pages of clippings were organized into manila folders by year and placed into filing cabinets until further needed. This entire process continued for 50 years.

So basically, the library had a unique local news collection, spanning the majority of the 20th century, collected and stored under questionable archival methods, with limited access to documents before 1985. In order to increase availability and use of the clippings, the library wrote a grant proposal for a small-scale digitization project to scan the newspaper clippings from 1933-1953, streamline cataloguing, and offer public access to the resource online. The grant proposed using Greenstone digital library software, an open source “suite of software for building and distributing digital library collections“ (Greenstone digital library software, 2007), to provide access to the digitized newspaper clippings.

Download the entire chapter for free (PDF) or purchase the book at Amazon.com.

References

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