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07 December 2007

California Digital Newspaper Collection

I had the pleasure of representing genealogists and CGS at California Newspapers in the Digital Age: Making Our History Available - A Conference in Celebration at the University of California, Riverside, on October 14, 2007. The conference heralded the California Digital Newspaper Collection, a free online resource that is the culmination of 16 years of work by Dr. Henry Snyder and the staff of the Center for Bibliographic Studies and Research.

Dr. Snyder, who recently won the National Humanities Medal, Assistant Director, Andrea Vanek and their project teams have been crisscrossing the state, rescuing newspapers and newspaper microfilm from garages, attics and storerooms to amass a collection of over 50 million pages from more than 9000 newspapers. This effort, called the California Newspaper Project was part of the United States Newspaper Program, a partnership between the NEH and the Library of Congress created in 1990 to provide enhanced access to U.S. newspapers. According to Snyder,

 California has the second-largest number of published newspapers in the United States, even though the first one wasn’t published until 1846. Newspapers are the single most important record of local history, yet also the most ephemeral. They don’t survive. People read them one day and burn them in the fireplace the next.
Over the years and as the technology has changed, the projects have gone from cataloging to microfilming to digitization. The center has received two grants to fund the digitization project. The first grant covered newspapers published between 1900-1910. The Center digitized over 100,000 pages of California newspapers for this period: the San Francisco Call, the Amador Ledger, the Imperial Valley Press, and the Los Angeles Herald. The Center will be digitizing an additional 100,000 pages for the second grant, which targets newspapers published 1880-1910.

Snyder cautioned that the site is still in the developmental stage and that technicians are working hard to make it user friendly and fast. Commercially available software did not live up to the center's expectations so two programmers developed a special software for the project. Beta versions are available for the San Francisco Call (coverage 1900-1911) and the Daily Alta California (1849-1890 some years missing). The search box includes a "calendar" option that reveals the dates that have been digitized.