On February 15th, 2017 the Iowa Department Of Cultural Affairs announced a plan to preserve more than 12 million pages of historical Iowa newspapers. We at the Advantage Companies are proud of our relationship with the State Historical Society of Iowa, and this plan will allow us to develop even closer ties with our community library and newspaper publishers.

Continuing to preserve Iowa’s fragile historical newspapers and increasing public access to the collection in a sustainable way have always been high priorities for the State Historical Society – State Archivist Anthony Jahn

Over the past six years, we have provided our services at no cost to the state, and we will continue to do so now and in the future. We will continue to work directly with libraries, whose funding sources include HRDP Grants from the Department Of Cultural Affairs, as well as other local and community grants. The libraries currently supplement those grants through donations, sponsorships, Friends of the Library programs, and independent fundraising efforts.

Paul Eganhouse recently published a letter to Advantage Companies clients and employees.

“The Advantage Companies is an Iowa company, serving Iowa residents for over 14 years. We have a long-standing relationship with the state of Iowa and a deep-rooted affinity for our state’s history.”

As an Iowa company, Advantage is excited to take an even more active role in preserving Iowa newspapers. We believe the preservation of our collective history is a shared responsibility, and we’re proud to continue our work with the state of Iowa to ensure that our ‘first draft of history’ is available for current and future generations.

In a segment posted on the KCRG website on February 16th, 2017, Allison Woods of the State Historical Society spoke of the importance of this initiative:

“Without being preserved, the records of the histories of a lot of these small towns would be lost,”

Ownership of the newspapers will remain with the State Historical Society Of Iowa, but the materials will be relocated to our secure facility in Cedar Rapids. This will enable us to assess each collection to ensure that every printed newspaper has been, or will be, preserved to microfilm.

Once the assessment has been completed, we will help the community identify additional funding sources to microfilm the unpreserved pages and scan them if necessary. Digitization will supplement the microfilming as a means to offer more practical access. The digital availability will be at the discretion of the newspaper publisher, and we will work directly with them as to how and where their content can be viewed. We want to explore ways to make the entire digital collection accessible to every library and school in the state of Iowa.

The Newspaper’s Intellectual Property

Dar Danielson interviewed Historical Society spokesman, Michael Morain for an article posted on RadioIowa.com on February 16th, 2017: State Historical Society converting stacks of newspapers to digital format, in which he says:

…it will take some months to move the newspapers to their facility, with the longer process being the digitizing of the papers. The contract also calls for the company to work out the copyright issues for the newspapers that were printed after 1924.

We believe strongly in the newspaper publisher’s rights regarding their intellectual property. Although works published prior to 1924 are in the public domain, we will only place them online after the publisher has been made fully aware. We want and need the community publisher’s full support in this initiative. There are over 90 years worth of copyrighted newspaper content that could be made digitally available with their permissions.

There are some in the industry who believe that there is a “gray area” when it comes to copyright law between “1924-1977”, and would rather ask forgiveness than permission when it comes to placing that content online. Kyle Munson quoted me on February 17th, 2017 in this piece for the Des Moines Register, stating:

“There’s that gray fine line between what is right and what is legal”

While others might try to walk that fine line, we don’t believe in “gray areas”. Anything published after 1924, requires signed permission before the content is even digitized. We will always err on the side of what is right, and not just someone’s interpretation of what is “legal”.

In that same Des Moines Register article, State Archivist Anthony Jahn told Kyle that the state has “format neutrality” with these newspapers. Kyle goes on to say:

In other words, the brittle newspapers themselves aren’t the essential artifacts — the content is key. Once the papers have been preserved on microfilm and digitized, the state will offer them back to local communities or, as a last resort, securely destroy them.

Accessibility

Content, is in fact key. Access to that content is equally important.

We do not foresee the individual community projects changing the way they access their community’s content, but we also hope to include their completed projects into a larger digital archive. The intention is to aggregate all of the localized collections of historical newspapers and make them available in Iowa libraries and schools.

The search tool currently available via the local libraries was originally designed to provide more practical access to their microfilm collection. This has proven to be a very valuable resource in unlocking content not easily accessible before. Mary Heinzman, the Executive Director of Information Resources for The Catholic Messenger, speaks to how researchers have benefited from the Advantage Preservation search portals:

Up till now, they have had to either manually flip through print pages, or scroll through reels of microfilm to find what they need. Having digital archives will make searching and printing so much easier. Digital archives can be searched by keyword, allowing searches to be done in minutes instead of hours.

Although utilitarian in nature, portals such as the one used to access The Carroll Library’s microfilm collection are used as an online search tool for discoveries like this one from the Carroll Daily Times November 22nd 1963.

A simple search of the words “president Kennedy shot”, returns over 3,500 results. By narrowing the search to just 1963, the second search result returned brings me to the headline “Kennedy Slain”.

Our design and development teams are actively working on a “fuller featured”, scalable, and even more user-friendly website. It will provide an experience more in line with what one would expect from some of the larger newspaper and genealogical websites available online.

What’s Next?

This multifaceted initiative represents a massive undertaking in terms of logistics, resources, and planning. The services we have been offering community by community remain unchanged. Between the 12,000 bound volumes being relocated to our facility, the administrative work needed to define the action plan for that collection, as well as the design and development of a new web platform, it marks a decisive change in our current business model.

The 12M pages of newly preserved content will be added to State Historical Society’s vast collection of microfilm. Currently there are more than 24 million pages from more than 650 statewide titles on more than 44,000 rolls of microfilm.

As ambitious as this project is, it now provides us the ability to combine the individual community projects and create something much more significant, that will benefit all Iowans. On February 19th, 2017, the Daily Nonpareil (Council Bluffs, Iowa) published an article that helps put the scope of this project in perspective. The article closes with this powerful sentence:

Preservation of these documents is critical for telling the story of both this state and individual Iowans.

Our team has been pleased to provide services within Iowa for well over a decade at the Advantage Companies, and as Advantage Preservation since 2011. We are thrilled about this new opportunity and are eager to advance our mission: “Ensure the preservation and accessibility of the history contained within Iowa’s newspapers”. By collaborating with SHSI, libraries, schools, and newspaper publishers, we believe we can engage other like-minded Iowans to join us in our mission.

In the upcoming weeks and months we will be rolling out additional details….so, stay tuned.