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

Introduction to Preservation Microfilming Guidelines


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.

Newspaper vendor holding copy of the New York American with the headline
Newspaper vendor holding copy of the New York American with the headline "Great War Council To-day: House Will Vote for Draft" with sailors standing behind him. 1917. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

The United States Newspaper Program (USNP) is a coordinated national effort to locate, catalog, preserve on microfilm, and make available to researchers newspapers published in the United States from the eighteenth century to the present. The program is supported by funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and with technical and management support provided by the Library of Congress (LC). USNP project teams in each of the fifty states, territories, and the District of Columbia locate and inventory newspaper collections held in repositories in their state in an attempt to discover all extant issues, conduct a detailed inventory of holdings to assure completeness and to evaluate the physical condition of the papers, make bibliographic and holdings data available to researchers via an international database, and select appropriate files for reformatting onto microfilm, which is produced and stored in accordance with national and international preservation standards. Information about titles and holdings is converted into machine-readable form and made accessible through a database managed and maintained by the Online Computer Library Center, Inc. (OCLC), an international library network with more than 25,000 participating libraries worldwide. Microfilm copies are held and made available through state agencies.

The origins of the United States Newspaper Program can be traced to the mid-1970s, when a poll of historians determined that bibliographic access to newspapers was one of their highest research priorities. The National Endowment for the Humanities initiated funding for the national program in 1982. If funding continues at current levels, it is expected that the final USNP grants will be awarded by NEH in 2006. [Editor's note: This statement was made in 2002; the program continued until 2011.] All fifty states, two trust territories, and the District of Columbia are currently involved in or have completed their role in the national newspaper program.

The Library of Congress and the New York Public Library began microfilming newspapers in the late 1930s. The life-expectancy of early film, however, was less than a generation. More recent developments and improvements in film stability and environmental controls, combined with refinements in high-resolution photographic equipment, provide assurance that microfilm that is produced, processed, and stored in adherence to appropriate national and international standards will serve historians and researchers for hundreds of years

Recent improvements in the quality of preservation microfilm can be directly credited to the support provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities Division of Preservation and Access. Participants in the NEH Brittle Book Microfilming Program and the USNP have served as a laboratory for refining practices and procedures. Guidelines, documentation, training workshops, and consultancies provided during the past decade by diverse groups such as the Research Libraries Group (RLG), the New England Document Conservation Center (NEDCC), SOLINET, AMIGOS, and research support from the Image Permanence Institute at the University of Rochester all have been funded in large part by the Endowment. In addition, many of the same preservation professionals who developed these guidelines and workshops have been very active in standards work under the National Information Standards Organization (NISO), the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM), and their international coordinating body, the International Standards Organization (ISO), and have contributed their preservation expertise to the standards development process.

The primary audience for the guidelines that follow is intended to be staff of agencies and institutions participating in the United States Newspaper Program; vendors contracted by those institutions to perform preservation microfilming services; and libraries, archives, historical societies, and publishers seeking guidance in performing high-quality newspaper preservation microfilming.

This LibGuide is intended to direct the attention of participants in the USNP--and others concerned for the reformatting of large files of newspapers--to the appropriate standards and recommended practice, and to offer additional guidance and options in the following areas: selection of materials for preservation; technical standards and specifications; physical and bibliographic preparation of newspapers for microfilming; microfilm inspection and quality control; and contractual negotiations with microfilming agencies.

The guidelines represent the collaboration of many participants in the USNP and are the product of experience and expertise shared among participants, both formally at USNP conferences and workshops, and informally in correspondence and problem-solving.

Particular thanks for their direct contributions to content of the guidelines is due to former New York State Newspaper Project staff members Walter Cybulski (now at National Library of Medicine) and Daniel McShane (now at University of Virginia); Jane Cullinane, Connecticut State Library; Errol Somay and the staff of the Virginia Newspaper Project, Library of Virginia; and Lesli Larson, Oregon Newspaper Project, University of Oregon. Many, many others contributed comments and expertise, and thanks are due to all.

Robert Harriman, Library of Congress, January 2002.