Iowa County Libraries, Historical Societies Digitize Old Newspapers

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by Annette Shannahan, courtesy of Iowa City Press-Citizen

Historical societies and libraries provide many different types of documented information for their patrons.

One of the types often provided is microfilm of various newspapers and historical documents. A few years ago, several local historical groups met and discussed how they could provide a more efficient and cost-effective means of delivering this information to the public.

This group invited the Iowa County (IA) libraries to be involved, as well, and, thus, a consortium of eight non-profits was formed. This consortium included the Iowa County Historical Society, the Iowa County Genealogical Society, the Williamsburg Historical Commission, and the five libraries -- Marengo, Williamsburg, Millersburg, North English and Victor -- of Iowa County.

The group met several times over the course of the year and formed a plan with a representative of the Advantage Company of Cedar Rapids, Jeffrey Brown. The plan was to digitize the newspapers and various documents, so the public could use a web-based system to access this information. In this manner, the rapidly outdated and expensive microfilm equipment could be replaced with a more efficient and user friendly system.

In order to fund such an undertaking, the group sought out various grant opportunities and quickly focused on the local grant that was available, the Iowa County Community Foundation Grant given by the Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa. After several more meetings, the grant was submitted and the group received $12,000, a generous portion of their requested funds. These funds were used to convert and digitize 109 rolls of microfilm newspapers, to prepare a searchable hard drive, and to establish a searchable website.

The members of the consortium now can offer access to this information via the website at each of their locations. The website allows patrons to search through newspaper articles more quickly and easily than the older system could. In addition, this system also allows them access to the entire local newspaper.

Although not all of the newspapers have been converted at this time, a large portion of the local newspapers and their historic information is currently available on the new website. Some of the newspapers that are included are the North English Record,the Marengo Democrat and Republican,the Victor Record,the Ladora Times, the Pioneer Republican and the Williamsburg Journal-Tribune. Any of the entities mentioned that are part of the group welcome you to visit them and explore this new and exciting avenue of information.

To access these databases, users will need to go to one of the libraries in Iowa County, or to one of the historical societies. Volunteers or employees will assist users with research questions and to guide them through the website. These are available only during normal hours.

Anyone with questions may call their local library or historical society volunteer.

The vast majority of the digitalizing process of the newspapers is completed. The group will be applying for additional funding to continue this work and to fill in years that are currently still to be digitalized.