How the Digitization of Newspaper Archives is Preserving Local Histories

American history is not only the big picture, it is also the collection of local histories that tell the real stories of where people came from and what communities have accomplished. The growth of a community is cataloged in its history and communities treasure their pasts and develop ways to preserve their place on the American historical timeline.

When it comes to telling the story of local history, nothing is more comprehensive than the local newspapers. Those local publications make it their business to report the news and, as a byproduct, preserve those stories for future generations. To understand a community is to read its history, but preserving that history has always been a problem. The Internet and local news publishers are helping to change all that with the digitization of local news archives.

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Protection From Those Unforeseen Elements

According to, the small town of Cleveland, Texas was recently awarded a $13,000 grant to digitize all of its newspaper archives and make those archives available on the University of North Texas website.

The city is glad to have someone digitize its archives to make them available to anyone who wants them, but a more practical reason to be excited is that now floods, fires, earthquakes, and other disasters will no longer threaten to wipe out the entire history of this small town. The ability to safely preserve history indefinitely and protect it from unforeseen disasters is a huge upside to digitization.

Microfilm And Money

It would almost be easier to try and take on a project that scanned all of the newspaper pages from local archives into some sort of national depository, but many local newspapers have their archives on microfilm. According to, the costs of digitizing microfilm are very high and most communities cannot afford it. That could mean that if grants are not set up to help fund these projects, then the histories of thousands of American small towns could be lost forever.

Why Is This Important?

With more and more local newspapers shutting down across the country, the need to address this issue becomes strong. The newspapers are the ones that have the original printed pages and when a local newspaper closes, those pages are normally destroyed. Without some sort of organized effort, those pages of history could be lost for good and the small town stories that have yet to be told would be lost as well.

The increase in local online publishing is important because it means that the history small towns make now will be preserved for years to come. As the country tries to come to grips with possibly losing huge chunks of its history, people can at least be satisfied knowing that the stories being told in the digital age will be around for a long time to come.

The other side-effect of local online publishing is that many newspapers are taking it upon themselves to digitize their archives and preserve the history of each small town. It is a project that could take decades and cost millions, but the end result would be the indefinite preservation of those historic stories that weave together to create that tapestry of the history of the United States.

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