History at your fingertips

Mary Cotton Public Library switches to digital archives after using microfilm for more than 35 years.

“This is benefiting the community because of the access. Also, I know a lot of people don’t do history research but it will come in handy if they do.” – Kim Priest

Mary Cotton Public Library Director Kim Priest shows Kathie Tramp a digital version of The Sabetha Herald from 1885 on Thursday, October 27, at Mary Cotton Public Library.
Mary Cotton Public Library Director Kim Priest shows Kathie Tramp a digital version of The Sabetha Herald from 1885 on Thursday, October 27, at Mary Cotton Public Library.

History at your fingertips. That was what Mary Cotton Public Library wanted to give local patrons when they were doing their own research for family trees and local history.

After more than 35 years of using microfilm, MCPL decided to go digital in order to make searching through old newspapers easier. Digital archives are copies of newspapers or other historical documents in PDF form, which are searchable.

According to MCPL Director Kim Priest, the idea for Digital Archives came from the State Historical Society several years ago.

“They [State Historical Society] decided to start the project of digitizing all of the old state newspapers,” she said. “When they told the libraries about it, we knew we were a ways down the list and decided doing it on our own was an option.”

Advantage Preservation — a company based out of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, which focuses solely on historical document preservation —contacted MCPL to explain how digital archives worked and offered to digitize all of the old area papers for around $9,000. At the time of the call, MCPL wasn’t entirely sold on the idea of moving everything to digital, but when MCPL’s microfilm machine broke down in the fall of 2015 the Library Board decided they needed to research a new option.

A new microfilm machine was the first option on the list to look in to. After learning it was going to cost over $11,000 to replace the microfilm machine and adding a new computer with enough stuff to run it [the micro film machine], the board started discussing digitizing the papers again – the cheaper route.

“Advantage Preservation called again and said they were running a special after the quote of $9,000,” Priest said. “And about a year after the first call, we decided to go for it. Total it cost us about $7,300.”

After gaining permission from The Sabetha Herald to digitize the old newspapers, MCPL sent Advantage Preservation 100 rolls of microfilm. Advantage Preservation analyzed each page and employed technology to enhance the copies for the best image profile.

After all of the microfilms were enhanced and made into PDF versions, the images were then saved to a terrabyte hard drive, which MCPL has for backup. The images were then uploaded to the new digital archives website.

It took about six weeks to transfer everything to a digital form, and the new searchable system went live in January 2016.

According to Priest, digitizing the newspapers accomplished multiple things.

1. The library does not have to maintain a special piece of very expensive equipment [the microfilm machine].

2. Digitizing the newspapers allows genealogists to personally search for information on the website, thus freeing employees from the task.

3. The project freed additional funds for library collection development and additional library programs.

“We do not have to maintain the microfilm machine and rolls and it has simplified searches a lot,” Priest said. “We used to have to help people set up the microfilm machines and assist them with searches. We were pretty excited when we actually saw it online, because people immediately started looking up things. There is no maintenance of machines and no purchase of microfilms. It is also less costly as we go because we now pay a simple annual website maintenance fee.”

The Sabetha Community is also benefiting in several ways. First, this project is a permanent preservation of a vital part of the local history.

Also, it allows former residents to access the older copies of the newspapers, students of history to search for items of interest, and genealogists to find obituaries and information of ancestors and relatives in a modern, timely manner, ultimately saving printing and searching costs.

“This is beneficial to anyone that is interested in Sabetha history,” Priest said. “It is a great tool to look up articles. The search engines available on the website help narrow down the searches and it is completely different from the microfilm.”

“With the microfilm you would need to know the year (at least for a place to start). It would take a long time to look through the microfilm, which was time consuming,” Priest said. “This is benefiting the community because of the access. Also, I know a lot of people don’t do history research but it will come in handy if they do.”

Currently, MCPL has the following newspapers available: Bern Gazette, Bern Press, Census, Centralia High School Scoop, Centralia Scoop, Corning Chief, Corning Clipper, Home Press, Nemaha County Republican, The Sabetha Herald, Sabetha Republican Herald and Sabetha Weekly Herald.

According to Priest, the public has responded positively to the digital archives available, and MCPL could possibly add other local newspapers soon.

“I had a guy come in asking about the Morrill newspaper,” she said. “He said he was interested in offering his own personal collection  to digitize for the website. We also might add the Sabetha Star. We have had people using it and we have also helped people search for items when they call and request it.”

The library plans for this project to be an ongoing process due to the fact that as long as The Sabetha Herald is being published, they will continue to add information to their database with the consent The Sabetha Herald owners.

According to Priest, Morrill Public Library also has a digital archives website and Seneca is working on getting its up and running.

To access the MCPL digital archives, go to marycotton.advantage-preservation.com or to sabethaherald.com/home/about-us/.

Current Digital Archives Available:

Bern Gazette: 1898-1942

Bern Press: 1889-1898

Census: 1860, 1870, 1880

Centralia High School Scoop: 1925-1926

Centralia Scoop: 1926-1927

Corning Chief: 1884

Corning Clipper: 1893-1984

Home Press: 1889

Nemaha County Republican: 1879-1882

The Sabetha Herald: 1885-2011 (more years to be added soon)

Sabetha Republican Herald: 1893-1904

Sabetha Weekly Herald: 1884-1885

Heather Stewart296 Posts

Heather Stewart is a reporter for The Sabetha Herald, where she has been on staff since 2015. She specializes in court and sports reporting, as well as photography. Heather is a 2011 Kansas State University graduate with a degree in psychology. She lives in Sabetha with her husband.

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