Texas City Newspapers: Preserving History One Page at a Time

Saving and Sharing History - BIG

There’s a treasure hidden away in a couple dozen boxes stored in the Moore Memorial Public Library Archive: old newspapers. These newspapers date back to 1909. Some of them are in surprisingly good shape, while others are deteriorating and soon may be mere piles of dust. Most of them have reached a stage in their existence where they should not be handled too much anymore. So, the need has arisen to digitize the papers to preserve their valuable information and make them easily available to the public.

Libraries began using microfilm regularly in the 1930s to preserve newspapers mainly as a space-saving tool. An entire year’s worth of A newspaper could be stored on one reel of microfilm. Then patrons would use the microfilm readers to view the contents on the reels. This system was great — for the era. The downside to old microfilm is that the image resolution is often low, and these films are beginning to degrade and deteriorate. Skimming through microfilm reels is not very research friendly by computer-age standards. One way of making text items research-friendly is with Optical Character Recognition (OCR). However, despite it being possible (with the right equipment and software) to use microfilm images to create digitized versions with OCR, the microfilm’s low resolution usually results in a poor OCR read. This makes the original newspapers the best option for modern preservation techniques.  Technology has advanced so much, that OCR programs make most newspaper text searchable and sometimes damages can even be “repaired” in the scanned images. 

For the last few months, the Moore Memorial Public Library Archive team members have been carefully cataloging, noting conditions of each paper, tracking down missing issues, collaborating with other library archives, and preparing these old newspapers for their journey to the University of North Texas so they can be preserved through the digitization process and will soon be available for online research through The Portal to Texas History website. 

(Photo Credit: Brenda L. Broussard for Moore Memorial Public Library)

Published: February 15, 2023