Newspapers across the state go digital

Grant will make it easier to get historical information quickly, easily

The Internet soon will provide access to an increasing number of digital versions of historic Colorado newspapers as microfiche archives are converted to the new format.

As early as spring 2004, the digital versions should become available at cdpheritage.org, the Internet home of the Colorado Digitization Program, which is carrying out the work.

"This should be a whole new wealth of information opened up through the digitization of newspapers," said Liz Bishoff, the executive director of the Colorado Digitization Program.

The Colorado Digitization Program recently received a $249,000 grant to digitize approximately 125,000 pages of historic newspapers from 1880 through 1899. It will add to an existing grant funding the digitization of newspapers from 1859 to 1880, more than 50,000 pages.

Colorado currently is at "square one," having no digital versions of the newspapers that documented its early development, according to Bishoff.

"Very few states have done anything," Bishoff said. "This is a new technology that is just being used."

Previous attempts have been made to use commercial optical character recognition (OCR) software to capture the text on the newspapers. But Bishoff said this technique required considerable editing, since the software mistakenly recognizes many of the characters, changing an "S" to a "$," for example.

"When you have millions and millions of pages, you can't do that," Bishoff said.

New software has automated the process, considerably improving the scanning process. Not only does it capture a digital image of the newsprint but it retains all of the text as well.

When the first newspapers begin to show up online next spring, everyone from researchers and genealogists to students and hobbyists will be able to conduct full-text searches of the archives. After locating the relevant document, users should then have the option to view the search word in the context of the article and the page where it first appeared.

Newspapers began showing up in Colorado in 1859 with the publication of the Rocky Mountain News and the Western Mountaineer.

Although the digitization program is converting early marquee newspapers, it also is embracing many small newspapers -- some that only published for a matter of months, Bishoff said.

The collection could eventually include 1.6 million pages of Colorado newspapers through 1923. The program aims to be comprehensive, digitizing every available newspaper as long as funding permits, Bishoff said.

Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or jbrowning@craigdailypress.com.

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