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Directory of U.S. Newspapers in American Libraries: A Guide for Researchers

Collation and Bibliographic Preparation


The U.S. Newspaper Program was successfully completed in 2011. The following information is presented for archival and research purposes relating to the creation of the Directory of U.S. Newspapers in American Libraries and subsequent newspaper programs like the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP). For current NDNP information, view the Library of Congress' National Digital Newspaper Program website.

When the initial inventory of a title is completed, the newspaper file must be organized and "edited" in preparation for microfilming. Admittedly, newspapers are easier than many other textual materials to use for research in microfilm format; their contents are obviously analog, and one moves naturally through the reel as one would through the calendar. However, simply filming page after page - as those who have used microfilm produced without careful preparation can attest - will not only frustrate and confuse the user of the film, but will also make at least some of the information unavailable. If the advantages of microfilm are to be achieved, a great deal of attention must be paid to organizing the material and providing access aids that will ensure that the user can efficiently carry out their research.

Comparing Documents with Microfilm
Washington, D.C. Comparing a Chinese book with the microfilm reproduction in the Oriental Division of the Library of Congress. 1942. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

Treatment during collation

Physical preparation of newspaper issues for filming is addressed in the following section of this guide. Though we will be dealing with those steps separately, to the extent that it is feasible, collation and physical preparation should be combined in a single operation, especially when dealing with brittle or damaged materials.

Bound issues. It is easier to collate bound volumes before removing issues from bindings, performing any other treatments required to repair and flatten pages afterward. If bound volumes cannot be opened without breakage or tearing along the inner margins, disbinding should be considered as a first step. Humidification, flattening, and ironing need to be done prior to tape mending. Some processes work better if done in batches. The order of work is determined by the material in combination with available resources.

Loose issues. Fragile loose issues that have been stored folded may require humidification, flattening, mending, stabilization, and structural support (e.g. insertion into polyester folders) before page-by-page collation is attempted. Otherwise, the pages will constantly break apart and require mending, adding considerable time to the collation process.

Surface cleaning. Should minimal surface cleaning be necessary to guarantee legibility in the filmed images of rare, unique issues, a conservation technician should be consulted. In many instances, newsprint is discolored by combinations of factors that may make a dramatic improvement through surface cleaning unlikely. Adequate long-term storage, including protective enclosures, should be available for all issues that are individually cleaned for filming.

Bibliographic integrity

Particular attention must be paid to accurate arrangement and identification of the issues; to assuring completeness, especially when making decisions about handling added materials, supplements, editions, etc.; and to bibliographic integrity, which includes providing information about any related titles, editions, anomalies, or special issues. All this should be done with an appreciation for the context in which the newspaper was originally published, and with a commitment to reproduce the content of the original as accurately as possible. Content is not simply isolated text, however. One of the several ways in which microfilm reproductions of newspapers are superior for research when compared to some current digital reproduction versions is that microfilm easily maintains the integrity of the page, and the placement of a news story on the printed page implies a great deal about its intended importance and relationship to other news items appearing on the same page or within the same issue.

For production efficiencies, these guidelines assume that the initial inventory has identified missing issues, and that attempts to obtain replacement issues to complete the run have been carried out prior to beginning page-by-page collation and physical preparation. Missing pages will be discovered during the collation process, but unless duplicates are at close hand it will in most cases not make sense to suspend work in order to seek out individual pages at that point.

Collation records

In order to ensure accurate record-keeping and to coordinate production and communication with the camera operator and those who will be doing post-filming quality control, standardized collation forms should be used throughout the collation and physical preparation process. Collation forms should be used to record any pertinent data or notes as the newspaper is examined page-by-page; to identify and organize the contents; to record publishing variations and printing inaccuracies; to obtain page counts; and to note defects in the originals, for example torn pages, mutilations, clippings, or other damage that may affect the legibility of the filmed images. Information should be issue-specific and should be recorded in a consistent manner. Collation forms will also be referenced after filming, during microfilm inspection, to allow quality control inspectors to distinguish condition problems with the original material from photographic, processing or duplication errors, e.g., missing pages, incorrect targeting, resolution problems, etc.

Targets and flags

As part of the collation process a variety of pages carrying information about the newspaper which are intended to be filmed with the text - called "bibliographic targets" - shall be inserted among the pages by preparation staff. Slips of colored paper - called "flags" and carrying instructions to the camera operator but not intended to be filmed with the text - will also be added as appropriate. In addition, a set of required "technical targets" must be supplied and filmed by the camera operator. Certain targets are required to be printed with a type font large enough that they can be read without the aid of magnification; these targets are referred to throughout this document as "eye-legible." Print on these targets should be readable without magnification in order to facilitate identification, e.g., matching the correct reel with the correct box in a reading room prior to reshelving, or easily "fast-fowarding" through a microfilm reel to a desired month or year.

Project managers should be aware that targets add exposures - and thus cost - to the reel, and should be utilized as efficiently as possible. For example, if a reel contains images of pages with frequent mutilations or irregularities, it will be more efficient to note that on a general condition "index" target that would appear at the beginning of the reel rather than attempting to target each instance throughout the run. Conversely, if the newspaper being filmed is complete and in relatively pristine condition, it is misleading to include a generic target calling attention to possible gaps and/or mutilations.

Finally, if it is likely that the film will be scanned at some time in the future, the collation and targeting should be carried out with that in mind. Of particular concern will be what may be construed as over-targeting, which could prevent high-volume scanning and necessitate frequent operator input.

Organization of the newspaper files

Newspapers shall be arranged in chronological order by year, month, and date, starting with the earliest date and working through to the last date in the run. An "eye-legible" date target indicating the month and year, shall be placed before the first issue of each month.

Enumeration, i.e., volume and issue numbering, may be helpful to the collator in establishing what specific dates are missing, but should not be used on newspaper targets, nor should enumeration be used to determine how the file is to be divided into reel units. Attempts to reconcile variant and conflicting enumeration in long historic newspaper runs have proved to be of little value for research, and too often simply confusing.

A key to maintaining bibliographic integrity through the reformatting process is the arrangement of newspaper issues into coherent bibliographic units. A newspaper run that will require more than one reel of film should be consistently divided, preferably into the larger chronological unit. Generally, for newspapers issued weekly or less frequently, every attempt should be made to divide the file so that complete years are included on reels. For newspapers issued daily, every attempt should be made to divide the file so that complete months are included on reels. The chronological division should be consistent throughout multiple reels. If necessary to subdivide a month, no chronological unit less than a week should be included.

Since arrangement of the file to fit the reel will require knowledge not only of the number of pages but also of the length of the reel of film stock used, the approximate number of targets to be filmed, the image placement to be used, the reduction ratio, and the length of the leader and trailer, consultation with the camera operator or microfilming agent will be necessary, especially as a project begins. Since most newspaper microfilming can be done within a limited set of variables, experienced preparation staff will be able to "program" the reels accurately. See the discussion on reel programming for more specific information and for sample tools.

Missing issues

Distinguish between missing issues and issues not published. Enumeration may be of assistance here. Often, holidays are also a signal that the issue may not have been published. Check the issues before and after the missing date(s) for a printed notice regarding the non-appearance of an issue (holiday, fire in the publisher’s office, bankruptcy seizures, editor run out of town, etc.). Note the source on the collation sheet if needed for quality review.

Missing or blank pages

Distinguish between pages missing from the file and blank pages. List the date on the collation sheet and note any evidence (e.g. similarity to surrounding issues) that suggests material is missing. Blank pages are not filmed, but must be accounted for on the collation sheet so there is no question during frame-by-frame inspection.

Pagination errors, fragments, etc.

Every effort should be made to provide the camera operator with newspapers organized in correct page order. Note pagination problems exactly as they appear (e.g. "Dec. 5th, 1941 has pp. 1-2-5-6-[ ]-[ ]-7-8," using a uniform system of annotation (e.g. brackets) to indicate unnumbered pages). Newspapers were (and are) usually assembled in repetitive formats, with some pages routinely designated to carry news and others used primarily for advertising. Page order can be determined by comparing issues. Pages hand-numbered by repository staff may also be helpful in determining the correctness of the pagination sequence. If pagination problems are numerous and persistent throughout the file, it is recommended that a general condition "index" target or single generic target at the beginning of the reel be used to indicate problems.

If fragments are found, determine if the fragments contain information important enough to be included in the filmed file, and attempt, if possible, to determine the approximate date. Be sure the material belongs with the paper, and was not simply inserted into a volume because it was loose. Undatable material should be identified as such on the collation form and kept in place in the file until a decision is made. If fragments are to be filmed (a practice not encouraged), pages or page fragments with known dates are filmed in sequence with the rest of the file; undated pages that cannot be placed in sequence should be noted with an explanatory target and filmed separately at the end of the file.

Date or numbering errors

Every effort must be made to provide the camera operator with newspapers arranged in correct chronological order. Note any date errors on the collation sheet and specify where they occur (e.g. "masthead date July 5th; paper published July 12th"). In many older papers, the publisher’s block often contains the correct date of publication if the masthead date is incorrect. Where correctness of date order cannot be determined, it is recommended that a full frame target indicate the reason for the appearance of the issues as filmed. If there are many such occurrences, indicate the reason on a single target at the beginning of the reel.

Title change or variation

Record on the collation sheet the new or variant title exactly as it appears, along with date of first appearance. A target shall be created to inform readers of the change. If the change or variation is unaccounted for in bibliographic sources, either as a title change or variation, bring the change to the attention of a cataloger. Caution: issues of entirely different papers or different editions of the same paper may be bound with the title being collated, in which case they should be removed and filmed separately. Consult with a cataloger if questions arise.

Frequency change (e.g. from biweekly to weekly)

Note the date of change and specific frequency. Be sure to distinguish between change of frequency (usually announced in the paper) and different editions, if not spelled out in the masthead or publisher’s block. Different frequency editions are cataloged and filmed separately. Consult with a cataloger if questions arise.

Day of issue change (e.g. from Monday to Saturday)

Note the exact date of first issue to appear on new day. As noted for frequency changes, be sure it is not a different edition of the paper.

Relocation of publisher to another city or town

On the collation sheet, note the relocation of the paper to another city. Consult with a cataloger to determine whether this constitutes a change requiring a new catalog entry. If not, note the specific date the new city name appears and where it appears.

Targeting extraneous or ephemeral material

Extra or special editions and broadsides: If the title is not evident, describe the material on the collation sheet and include publication dates if known. Notify a cataloger if the material is not accounted for in bibliographic records. Measure and record size changes on the collation sheets.
This information will aid in determining the need for reduction ratio changes and for additional targeting.

Advertising material or announcements printed on separate sheets: policy decisions about including redundant advertising on microfilmed newspapers should be made by each project. When included, advertising inserts and announcements should be filmed at the end of each newspaper. On the collation sheets, describe, measure, and record dimensions of the separate sheet(s) if they are not the same size as the regularly issued pages. This information will aid in determining the need for reduction ratio changes and for additional targeting.

Exclude from filming any material obviously not issued along with the newspaper as published (e.g. clipping from another newspaper inserted into a bound volume as a page marker). Set these aside for return to the lending location. Paper clips and other attached or inserted items obviously not issued as part of the original publication should be removed from the file and excluded from filming.

Condition evaluation and annotation

Condition problems that may adversely affect the appearance or legibility of the filmed images should be identified and listed by publication date on the collation form (e.g. "Nov. 23rd, 1851- badly stained"). As noted above, a general statement regarding problems detected during the collation process may be included in some form of target on each reel. In the past, ambiguous targets such as "the best available material has been filmed" or "bad originals" were often used to alert those inspecting or using the film that the images might be incomplete or difficult to read. Still other attempts to include detailed condition information using an array of in-frame targets have resulted in cluttered, "over-targeted" film.

The problem with incorporating such information into the filmed version of the paper has in part been the subjective nature of condition evaluation. In one instance, every page with a small hole or missing corner fragment was filmed with a "mutilated" target. In another, the "mutilated" target was not included in the frame unless text was missing. In still another, a "mutilated" target was used only if twenty-five per cent or more of the page was missing. Other problems, such as excessively light or dark originals, blurred or unreadable text resulting from uneven printing, stains, wrinkles, and print loss incurred when pages were trimmed at the bindery have evoked a similar range of interpretation or have been ignored entirely.

Condition problems that are known to have an adverse or potentially adverse effect on the legibility of microfilmed images of newspapers include:

Mutilation. A portion of a page other than margin is missing. During the collation process, annotation should indicate whether the missing portion has been cut out, torn off, or appears to be the result of some other type of damage (e.g., burnt or eaten by rodents). Slight tears along creases, small perforations, portions of text missing from advertising that is repeated from issue to issue, and any missing portions of blank margins are not considered to have an adverse affect on the legibility of the information content of the newspaper and need not be taken into account.

Bleed-through. Heavily inked or struck words and images very often bleed through to the reverse of both rag and wood pulp pages. The resulting backward-appearing versions, most frequently found in the masthead and in advertising, can make some of the text that belongs on the page unreadable. Heavily inked column rulers may also interfere with text on the reverse of the page.

Creased in printing. Sheets that were wrinkled or mis-folded as they were fed through the press may contain blank streaks that run through one or more columns of text.

Dark printed text. Heavily inked text on paper that has darkened over time may be difficult to read when filmed. This problem is more pervasive than bleed-through, which is usually limited to a portion of text. Darkness or discoloration (commonly light or reddish brown) of the area immediately surrounding the text may in part be the result of the hurried folding and distribution of freshly inked pages, trapping wet ink and oil residues inside. An experienced camera operator may be able to enhance legibility somewhat by adjusting the lighting or shooting an intentional duplicate image at a different light setting.

Light printed or faded text. Lightly inked portions of text on faded or discolored paper may be difficult to read when filmed. Portions of text may also be faded or missing. If "in-frame" targets are not used, it is important to keep an accurate record when collating. During inspection, the collation sheet is consulted to distinguish light or faded print from text washed out due to the use of improper lighting during the filming process. Replacement pages should be sought for the worst cases.

Blurred print. Sheets that jammed or pulled during the printing process may contain blurred or double-struck text. Try to obtain a better original if an issue is badly blurred throughout.

Stains. Slight stains will have little or no impact on the legibility of the filmed image of the page. If print can be read within the stained area of the original, it should be legible on film. Dark stains obscuring text will likewise be obvious. "Foxing" is included in this general category.

Print cut off at edge. As a result of printing error or excessive trimming when issues were being bound, text may be cut off along any of the margins of a newspaper page. By referring to the collation record when inspecting the film, staff should be able to distinguish between print cut from the original material and print loss due to improper camera work.

Contrast changes. Successive issues of either rag or wood pulp paper may appear to be printed on noticeably lighter or darker paper. Changes in paper stock, handling, and storage conditions of the material over time contribute to this phenomenon.

Because of the need to achieve relatively even densities (see ANSI/AIIM MS23-1998, sections 5.1.4 and; ANSI/AIIM MS-111-1994, Section 9.2), both collation worksheets and instructions to the camera operator should indicate if there are noticeable contrast changes within runs of issues to be filmed on the same reel. Slips of paper can be inserted to give the camera operator an idea of what the extremes of light and dark pages look like within the contents of the same reel. Step tests performed in advance of filming will allow the camera operator to evaluate density shifts in advance of filming.