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Digital newspaper archive reaches milestone: a million pages online

Mark Sweeney, coordinator of the National Digital Newspaper Program of the Library of Congress, speaks at the Newseum in Washington Tuesday as a milestone is announced.
Mark Sweeney, coordinator of the National Digital Newspaper Program of the Library of Congress, speaks at the Newseum in Washington Tuesday as a milestone is announced.
Gerald Herbert, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The National Digital Newspaper Program on Tuesday hit a major milestone — digitizing and posting online, 1 million newspaper pages dating back more than a century.

And a while it's difficult to tell for sure exactly which page was the millionth one, a Deseret News page from June 1900 could have been it.

Librarians aren't quite sure which title hit the 1 million mark first because they upload large chunks of data at once. But the June 16, 1900, Deseret Evening News, as it was called back then, is among 11 titles that could have been the millionth added, as are pages from The Washington Times, the San Francisco Call and the Omaha Daily Bee.

Vintage accounts of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and the Wright brothers' first "aeroplane" flight in 1903 are among the news stories preserved through the National Digital Newspaper Program.

There are some bloopers, too.

"The Teddy bear craze is dying out," reported the Ocala Evening Star in Florida, passing off the huggable stuffed animals as merely a fad in 1907. Other reports surmised Teddy Roosevelt's chances of returning from an African safari were slim to none.

The pages are available in one place online, and searchable for the first time without having to sift through microfilm. "We hope to make microfilm obsolete," said John Herbert, who has led a newspaper digitization effort at the University of Utah since 2005.

The National Endowment for the Humanities announced this week the U. is receiving a $262,863 grant for its Utah Digital Newspaper Project to help digitize 100,000 pages of Utah newspapers dating from 1870 to 1922.

The total newspaper pages digitized as part of the National Digital Newspaper Program has already grown to 1.2 million pages, and the archivists expect to eventually hit 20 million pages, dating from 1836 to 1922. Many earlier newspapers from the colonial era already have been digitized through other projects, and newspapers after 1922 are largely protected by copyright and not considered to be in the public domain.

Students, genealogists and others can find the documents at the Library of Congress' Chronicling America Web site.

Organizers are building search aids on various topics, such as the annexation of Hawaii, to help guide researchers to the best pages. They've also discovered tips on how best to search.

"You need to be thinking of the vocabulary they used in the 1880s," said Mark Sweeney, who helps coordinate the project at the Library of Congress.

The site includes major daily newspapers as well as smaller town publications, Sweeney said, because "you can get a very different take on the news."

It also has a directory of nearly 140,000 newspaper titles dating back to 1690. For many that are not yet digitized, it directs researchers to places where those newspapers are kept in print or microfilm.

The National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress, which split the costs of maintaining the site, also announced plans Tuesday to expand the digitization program to seven more states for a total of 22. Carole Watson, acting chairman of the humanities endowment, said the goal is to eventually include newspapers from all 50 U.S. states.

Grants are being awarded to Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon and South Carolina.

"Newspapers are the most important printed record of the history of our country at the local, state and national level," said Henry Snyder, director of the Center for Bibliographical Studies and Research who leads California's digitization effort. "Every citizen in our country is a potential user and beneficiary."

For more information on the National Digital Newspaper Program, go to