The headlines of the past are more easily at hand now that nearly a half-century of Bethlehem history has been digitally archived.
The Bethlehem Public Library has completed its project to digitize 50 years of The Spotlight. The effort was done in conjunction with the local newspaper to help preserve the town’s narrative.
The library used donated funds and a matching grant to pay for the initiative.
“Local papers tend to get ignored by the larger historical projects,” said Library Director Geoffrey Kirkpatrick. “The local news happens locally, and it’s a piece that’s easily missed if no one is paying attention, and that’s where community libraries need to step in.”
The whole process was expected to take six months, but only took three.
The library’s entire collection of Spotlight newspapers from 1955 to 2005 were sent to a company in western New York that scanned the publications, digitized them and turned them into microfilm copies. They were then uploaded to the Internet to create a digital database.
For years, the library kept copies of the paper and bound them by year. Library volunteers also began clipping certain articles and obituaries to keep an index. Kirkpatrick said eventually they had so many clippings, it became unworkable. Another problem the library faced was residents cutting out articles or pictures from the bound copies that were meant to be preserved for public record.
In order to compete the digitization, a copy of each edition had to be unbound and scanned. Some issues were also out of order, and archivists worked to put them back in place.
Nearly every edition of The Spotlight through 2005 can now be viewed by visiting the library’s website. The newspaper will continue to work with the library so digital copies of up-to-date issues can be added in the near future.
“We felt this was an important initiative to not only help preserve the history of Spotlight Newspapers, but the greater community as well, for years to come,” said Spotlight Publisher John McIntyre.
The first four editions of the paper are missing, as well as all of 1957. If any members of the community have any of the missing editions and would like to donate them, they can be brought to the Bethlehem Public Library.
For the past 14 years, the library has wanted to get the project under way, but they lacked the funding. The project was able to move forward because of donations made last year.
Kirkpatrick said a similar initiative, called the New York State Newspaper Project, was undertaken by the state from 1987 to 2007 to preserve larger, daily papers. However, the small, community papers were ignored.
The money is being provided by donations from the estates of two local residents and money given to the library by a defunct acting troupe in the town. A matching grant of $12,000 was then provided by the town’s Friends of the Library Association.
With the digitized copies uploaded, Kirkpatrick said the library will now work to better focus the system’s searchable function so residents can look for certain names or events throughout the entire archive. The library will also keep microfilm copies on hand, while another copy will be sent to the NYS Library to be archived with the rest of the NYS Newspaper Project.
Kirkpatrick said there are lots of ways the archive can be useful. Some students need primary sources for school projects, while other people may want to do genealogy research or look up past town business.
“We’re incredibly excited about this project,” said Kirkpatrick. “This is one of those things that no one else in the world is going to do but the local library, and we take our part in curating local history very seriously.”