Local museum leads digitized charge for Craig’s historic newspapers
January 16, 2016
Craig — About a century ago, Northwest Colorado was moving through a challenging transition. The stagecoach, a prevalent source of transportation in the area at the time, was about to be overtaken by the train.
Paul Knowles, assistant director of the Museum of Northwest Colorado, recently found himself researching stagecoaches for an exhibit that will soon be at the museum. He noticed that D. W. Whipple, in the early 1900s, could hear the not-so-distant whistle signaling the train's approach — and Whipple understood what it meant to the stagecoach business.
Whipple was a prominent stagecoach manager in the area.
"As the train was coming to Steamboat, you could start seeing advertisements in the paper for auctions," Knowles said. "He was auctioning off his horses."
Knowles was able to make these connections through research of digitized newspapers in the area. The effort to produce digitized newspaper archives has been percolating throughout the country for decades, and during the past year or so, the Museum of Northwest Colorado has helped, as part of a statewide effort, to create digitized content for newspapers in Moffat County through 1922. The museum had been trying to find ways to digitize this sort of material for a number of years, said Museum Director Dan Davidson.
More digitization to come
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The digitization through 1922 could be accomplished without permission, since the material was old enough to be in the public domain. But now, within about the next three months, two more decades' worth of newspapers will be digitized — through 1942 — with publisher permission. The museum may later digitize newspapers as late as 1963, if funding can be secured.
Davidson said the local project has so far cost about $27,000, with about $22,000 coming from the museum's mineral fund and $5,000 from the Moffat County Library.
He said the project includes newspapers reaching back into the deep history of Moffat County, including the Moffat County Bell, in Maybell.
Davidson described the way the availability of information may spread into the museum's work, and also into the deepest corners of people's personal quests.
"A lot of people who come here are traveling through," he said. "They have a story that their grandparents homesteaded here, or they had a business here, and they might come in and say, 'Where did they live? Where'd they work? What did they do?'"
To search for answers to such questions, they can now go to https://www.coloradohistoricnewspapers.org. Once there, they can find a number of search options, including the option to search by county.
Long and winding process
Davidson said Jan Gerber, who recently retired from her job as the museum's assistant director, worked hard to set the process in motion.
"Jan led the charge on a lot of it," he said. "It makes research, and accessibility, altogether different. We're constantly using it."
Davidson noted past local work on newspaper indexing, as well. He mentioned Jim Brinks, a Craig pharmacist who worked to index key events in the area in the 1990s.
Gerber said she became motivated to pursue the current project when she noticed the way online databases were springing up in the region, even in small communities.
"There were other little towns that were getting their (newspapers) put online, so I started researching and talked to people in other areas to see how they did it," she said.
Regan Harper, director of networking and resource sharing for the Colorado State Library, has coordinated the digitizing effort on a state level. Harper described an intricate project involving cooperation from several different state and local groups. She said the Denver-based organization History Colorado, formerly the Colorado Historical Society, has created microfilm copies of newspapers throughout the state, dating back as early as 1859. The state library, she said, has worked to digitize those newspapers with funding and other sorts of input at the local levels.
Harper said the state library uses vendors for two phases. One vendor, she said, crafts digitized images, and another creates index points and "optical character recognition" translations of those images that can be used in searches.
"One creates an image," she said. "The other takes that image and makes it work."
Rising use of digital archives
Harper cited a number of factors that make digitization more prevalent today than a decade ago, such as a less expensive cost and a more streamlined coding system compatible that's amenable to data-sharing from place to place.
And she said locating historical data on the web has become the norm for various kinds of researchers.
"Now, you expect it," she said.
The online archives may also affect how people do library research locally. Sherry Sampson, library director for the Moffat County Library, said patrons come in to search through local newspapers about once per week, often seeking out obituaries or other sorts of ancestral information.
"It can be pretty archaic, because you can't use key words," she said.
Sampson said people could use the http://www.coloradohistoricnewspapers.org site at library computers if they'd like to, drawing on help from library staff members along the way.
Harper said the northwestern and southeast parts of the state have been less thoroughly represented in the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection than other parts, so she was glad to work with Gerber to place these archives from Moffat County in the database.
"She contacted us to say she was interested in digitizing newspapers," Harper said. "She asked, 'What's the next step?'"
After talking to Gerber, Harper and other Colorado State Library staff members explored the archives from History Colorado and reported back to Gerber on the quality of those archives, and on what the cost might be to digitize them.
The feel of a physical newspaper
Davidson noted the website simulates in-person research by bringing up clusters of newspaper content, rather than only a single story. As he described some of his own research — including liquor restrictions during Prohibition and the Meeker Bank Robbery of 1896 — he explained the ability to find neighboring stories and advertisements on the website enables more thorough research.
"At the end of it, you can write a way better story, or build a way better exhibit, and be more historically correct," he said.
Gerber said she enjoys searching through the website, especially since it supplies an image that shows an entire area of a newspaper, rather than a single article.
"It's very similar to looking in the old newspapers, which I think people will really enjoy," she said. "It doesn't just give you the information, but it gives you the actual article. It's very addictive. You want to keep looking."
Gerber said the site appeals to her desire to page through physical newspapers, lingering on unexpected items.
"I love to sit and look through the old newspapers," she said. "It's amazing what you can find."
Even with the growing website, the museum keeps a hefty supply of old newspapers that reach back into the late 19th century. The yellowed and brittle pages don't make ideal research tools, tearing easily at the touch. But they're physical testaments to history, and Davidson is glad to have them around.
He carefully paged through an issue of one area newspaper, the Pantagraph, from 1891.
"Historically, I don't ever see getting rid of this one," he said. "It's the original. It's probably one of a kind."
Reach Michael Neary at 970-875-1794 or mneary@CraigDailyPress.com.