Colorado’s Historic Newspaper Collection: Bringing History to Life

By on

By Jim Duncan

The Daily Register Call. October 28, 1871: “The official opening of the Denver and Rio Grande railway, took place yesterday. The following special report of the excursion…was received at 9 o’clock last night, by telegraph…”

The Weekly Courier. Pueblo, CO – August 28, 1905: “William Little, a bricklayer, 30 years of age, is dead here today. The police surgeon is of the opinion that his death was the result of imagination...”

Summit County Journal. Denver, CO – June 6, 1908: “Denver is now boasting the largest and most modern out-door amusement resort between Chicago and the Pacific coast in the new Lakeside park, its half-million-dollar ‘White City…’”

The Fairplay Flume. Headline of December 14, 1900: “Who Saw the Great Meteor of Friday, December 7?”

Akron Weekly Pioneer Press. Headline of October 13, 1916: “New Home Opens to State Insane. Buildings…Are Completed and Dedicated to Humanity. Motto of ‘Women First.’

A person easily can lose hours exploring the Colorado Historic Newspaper Collection web site. Stories and reports from Colorado’s communities take on a rich, compelling flavor when read as they actually appeared in the local newspaper. History springs to life.

With its collaborative, statewide focus, the Colorado Historic Newspaper Collection serves as an example of a unique and “virtual” special collection. This online archive represents 66 cities and 41 counties in the state. An open, freely-accessible web site, CHNC currently contains more than 430,000 digitized pages and offers readers online access to more than 115 local and regional newspapers published between 1859 and 1923. It is expected to eventually hold more than 2.5 million pages from more than 275 newspapers.

Aside from the diversity of its holdings, one aspect that distinguishes this collection from other digitization and preservation initiatives across the country is its funding model. Rather than relying on unpredictable, highly-competitive national or federal grants to finance digitization and access to newspapers, Colorado communities themselves raise funds locally to have their historic newspapers digitized and made accessible through the centralized Web collection. CHNC represents a true, statewide collection. It continues to grow only because of the efforts of local communities. Recent success stories include:

  • A Yuma County farmer raising more than $21,000 to digitize early editions of the Wray Rattler, Yuma Pioneer and Wray Gazette.
  • The Loveland Public Library’s first foray into preserving a local paper, raising $1,200 to digitize the first reel of The Loveland Leader, starting with 1892.
  • The Pitkin County community of cultural heritage advocates, and its smashing success at gathering $100,000 to digitize more than a dozen newspaper titles from the region.

Another aspect of the CHNC that distinguishes it from other digital collections is its technical infrastructure. In late 2007, staff members behind the service began planning for enhancements. A new system interface is being planned, with better searching and quicker response. Additional technical strategies under consideration include “exposing” newspaper content through external search tools like Google’s News Archive, as well as through RSS feeds and podcasts.

Investment in exposing granular parts of the archive is strategic when one goal is to increase traffic to the site. CHNC already averages more than 3.6 million page views annually. While capturing Internet traffic is important, what is more crucial is to the notion that historic newspaper content should be readily findable by Internet users. CHNC should be designed to float above the “hidden” or “deeper” web. To achieve that goal through technical development efforts, staff members are working with commercial partners Olive Software and Google.

Unlike some historic newspaper web sites, content within the newspaper collection is fully searchable by publication, keywords, sections, and date ranges. By adding intelligence and structure to traditionally static documents, there is flexibility to easily re-use and re-purpose headlines, newspaper articles, advertisements and images to create new collections of information.

Article-based topical collections, created by library staff, canprovide easy entry/access into the extensive web site, which at times can feel overwhelming.

The “Featured Topics” section of the web site is one example for how topical collections can be created. This section offers both Colorado-specific and general-interest topics. Focused subject access is particularly valuable for school teachers who explore Colorado-specific curriculum topics and who wish to encourage their students to research current events within their historical framework. The CHNC archive is all about access, providing K-12 students entry to interact directly with primary source materials. CHNC retains the source newspaper’s look-and-feel.

Like a small business experiencing growing pains, the CHNC service has been challenged to grow beyond a boutique level into a mature, foundational resource serving every corner of the state. Ongoing development efforts are coordinated by the Colorado State Library and its partner, the Colorado Historic Society, however it is energy from local communities that continues to power the collection.

For the Colorado Historic Newspaper Collection, there is plenty of growth ahead, many more stories to tell, much more history to pass along to future generations.

About the Author

Jim Duncan is Director of Networking and Resource Sharing at the Colorado State Library, where he is responsible for the Colorado Historic Newspaper Collection along with other core statewide services and collaborative projects.

Contact Information
Jim Duncan, Director
Networking & Resource Sharing Unit
Colorado State Library

Read about more Library Showcase Libraries.

Do you have a great story about your local library that you would like featured in the Library Showcase column? If so, please refer to our Editorial Guidelines and send your story to showcase at