Funding Local Newspaper Preservation

A post came across the IowaLib listserv stressing an alarming drop in the funding for preserving local newspapers.  I asked the author, Nathan R. E. Clark – Library Director of Emmetsburg Public Library if I could repost his message here. He gave permission and here it is in italics below.

I haven’t edited for clarification, but a few facts you may need.

  • Emmetsburg is a town in northwestern Iowa.
  • The State Historical Society of Iowa (SHSI) is the main statewide historical organization in Iowa and operates a museum, archive and collections in its building in Iowa’s capitol city, Des Moines, and also supports a variety of smaller historical sites around the state.  SHSI has had its funding levels cut on a regular basis for at least the last 20 years or so. I think they have desperately trying to do a good job with too little budget.
  • Advantage is a company that both microfilms and creates digital access for newspapers that is headquartered in Iowa.
  • The post directs several questions specifically to the library community, but part of the reason I wanted to repost this here was that I think it should be of import to Iowa historians of all stripes and to genealogists who may not be aware this is even a problem.
  • While this is specifically directed at Iowans, I think there are similar issues in many other states.

These past few months, the two public libraries where I work administered grants to have the issues of their town newspapers microfilmed up through the end of 2011. For us, this meant seven and eight  years of newspapers, respectively, between the two towns. We received a specially-negotiated rate through the State Historical Society of Iowa to have the work done by the Advantage Companies out of Cedar Rapids, and we also had the microfilmed images digitized.

Along the way, SHSI sent out a letter thanking us for participating and listed the other communities who had also done so, about 65. Furthermore, the letter provided a background for the program, stating that SHSI formerly had the microfilming of Iowa’s newspapers in its budget, but that this was taken away in 2009, and that they are continuing to receive
issues from 272 publishers.

Doing the math, even assuming a liberal increase in participation (272-100=172), reveals a fairly large number of newspapers not being preserved beyond the point where the funding was cut for microfilming newspapers. The letter also alludes to a “backlog of 1,200 newspaper bundles,” and I can only assume this has grown with the passage of time
(the letter was dated Sept. 2011).

What I am getting at is that I find myself asking: “is this an area where more advocacy from the library community is necessary?” Now, I realize that newspapers and their ownership can be a delicate matter, but I feel that in many situations across the state, people look to the public library for preserved issues of their  local newspapers. Additionally, I do not remember seeing much of any advocacy on this list or elsewhere for the restoration of this funding. So, I do have some questions about the situation:

  • Are my estimates of un-filmed newspapers and backlogs accurate?
  • Why did SHSI cut funding for this project? Did they lose funding from a particular source that has not been restored?
  • What percentage of their funding is State of Iowa, Federal, and others?
  • Is the current funding model considered sustainable or equitable in any way?

Lastly, thinking that some of the above questions may need to be answered by a select group of people, I ask of everyone: “is preservation microfilming of our newspapers a priority?” I know that the library community has had many other battles to fight recently in terms of funding, and that these are ongoing. Furthermore, I know that this issue straddles the line between museum/historical societies’ and libraries’ responsibilities. I can say that for me, professionally, that this is a priority and that my institution and community are in agreement.

I would welcome answers to my questions from those in the know and further questions and comments from others.

Thank you,

Nathan R. E. Clark
Library Director
Emmetsburg Public Library
707 North Superior
Emmetsburg, IA 50536


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Sarah Uthoff - Trundlebed Tales

Sarah S. Uthoff is a nationally known Laura Ingalls Wilder authority and has presented at five of the Wilder homesites, many times at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, many conferences and numerous libraries, museums, and events around the Midwest. She is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales fighting to bring the History, Mystery, Magic, and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation. How can you help? Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, look at her photos, and find her on Facebook , Twitter , Google+, LinkedIn , SlideShare, and . Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and former director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.

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