Dusty bound books and computers in the back of libraries have long been the gatekeepers of newspaper archives. They’re difficult to search through and many people don’t even know where to begin looking for the unique and irreplaceable content newspaper archives provide. Often, the commercial appeal of archives goes untapped by publishers.
To help them take advantage of that opportunity, SmallTownPapers, Inc. launched Discover America’s Story (discoveramericasstory.com), an online database that currently hosts millions of archives—some dating back as far as the 1800s—from approximately 300 community newspapers. The database focuses on small publications because many of them don’t have the resources to archive their content.
“In the past, since there was no commercial value to their bound volume archives, many publishers turned to local libraries and historical societies to maintain these community records. Often, the archives were maintained or stored but remained difficult if not impossible to access and search,” said Paul Jeffko, SmallTownPapers president and founder. “Now with new technologies, we can make them accessible and use them for commercial purposes.”
After digitizing the archives, publishers can license the historical records to libraries, community businesses, museums and more to generate revenue.
Publishers can also create ad sponsorships with local businesses. The Mooreland (Okla.) Leader sold community sponsorships of their Discover America’s Story and was able to pay for the digitization of more than 100 years of newspaper archives. The paper has continued with the sponsorship program in order to keep archiving current issues.
Jeffko said the Discover America’s Story website has seen more than 2 million visitors in the last year. “People desperately want to be able to access historical records online and publishers know that if the only copy of the local newspaper’s documented history of their town or county is lost or damaged, you can’t get it back.”
As a newspaper partner, publishers send in their bound volume or loose paper archives and have them digitized while retaining complete ownership and control of the digital archives. Publishers also have the ability to house the archives on their own website, said Jeffko.
While Jeffko said he’s open to expanding Discover America’s Story, the website won’t be archiving video or other digital aspects of newspapers anytime soon.
“There are still millions and millions of American small town and community newspaper pages out there that have never been digitized or microfilmed and today are virtually inaccessible. That, in itself, presents such an opportunity,” he said.