It’s been an on-going issue that I’ve posted about multiple times. Due to funding cuts the microfilming and preservation of Iowa newspapers effectively stopped in 2009. These efforts were headed up by the State Library of Iowa. This has been of great concern of historians around the state. Once these newspapers are gone they are almost impossible to track down. It’s also a matter of beating the clock because most newspapers have gone to using cheaper paper and ink. While this choice saves them money and allows them to say they are going green (which is true, these inks and papers are better for the environment), but it also means they break down much quicker than newspapers from previous decades.
So it is with something of shock that Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs basically turned down money to restart the project that was in the process of being approved via a bill by the General Assembly. According to the story below they are in the process of doing a study on the current state of all collections and want to develop a plan going forward before they act. Personally, I’m all for plans and as papers create digital only content new methods will hopefully be developed to capture them. That said they have such a big backlog of paper copies of newspapers now, I would definitely have taken the earmarked money. You can never tell if something like that will be offered again and my guess is that it won’t be.
The study will examine all the collections held by the historical society and prioritize where money will be spent. It will specifically look at the newspaper plan and will consider whether to keep producing microfilm or to move to a digital format of preservation. Microfilm is still the gold standard for preservation. It has a proven track record to be stable over a long period of time with no additional work necessary (that’s not true for work copies, but preservation copies that are merely stored and sometimes copied). Microfilm is also a format that even if no microfilm reader is available you could jerry-rig something fairly easily to retrieve the data. Microfilm is also relatively easy to transform into a digital copy for access purposes. Digital preservation can allow for easier and wider decimation of the preserved copies. However, media formats haven’t shown long term storage capabilities. It requires a lot of work to keep digital records accessible in programs that people can still use. For example, I’ve seen news stories about research being done on the moon landing that required people to re-enter data from paper print outs since the original digital files are no longer accessible. Even when digital information is kept up to date, each time you have to update to a new file standard to keep things accessible some small amount of the data is lost just by the nature of the process. The study also looking at what is already being done by other entities to save copies, especially newspapers themselves. While it may be better to spend funds on resources that haven’t been preserved at all, preservation done by private companies is always at risk and well worth duplicating by public institutions if funding is available.
So in short, I’m going to keep an eye on this developing story and you should too. I hope we hear more about this soon.
Find previous posts linked to my last year’s report:
Sarah S. Uthoff 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.Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, and find her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+,LinkedIn, and Academia.edu. She is currently President of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association. Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.