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

Selection for Microfilming


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.

Criteria for selection of titles for filming by USNP projects will vary somewhat from state to state, but general guidelines are relevant to all projects, and in fact to any newspaper preservation microfilming program.

Washington, D.C. Microfilming Chinese documents. Library of Congress
Washington, D.C. Microfilming Chinese documents. Library of Congress. 1942. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

Research value - Does the newspaper have special historical significance? Is it the newspaper "of record" for a city, region, ethnic group, or cluster of rural communities? Are published indexes available? Have other papers offering essentially the same local or regional news coverage been filmed? Has a more frequently issued and more comprehensive version of the same paper been filmed, e.g., a "for the city" daily edition versus a "for the country" weekly edition? Weekly and monthly editions often contained summary versions of the same news covered more thoroughly in the daily.

Physical Condition - Preparing the newspaper for filming will involve more handling than the paper will have experienced at any other time. Will the issues survive the amount of handling required by preparation staff and camera operators? If issues are being borrowed for filming, will the owner or holding institution allow the papers to be adequately prepared for filming, i.e., can the bindings be removed? Is the paper threatened, either by physical storage conditions, impending sale of property, planned remodeling, etc., in its current repository?

Completeness - Every effort should be made to assure that the most complete file is assembled before filming. How much of the paper is known to be extant and available for filming? Are issues from several locations needed to complete the file? Will these locations agree to lend the material for filming? Note that it may be better to select and film an incomplete run of a major daily paper than to film a weekly or monthly edition of the same paper simply because a complete run is available.

Bibliographic Selection

Titles proposed for filming should be searched in any available print or online sources to verify that the title has not previously been filmed in order to avoid duplication of effort and expense, and to identify holdings that can be obtained to fill gaps or substitute for damaged or mutilated issues. It should be noted that when listing detailed holdings following library holdings standards, union lists and local catalogs list holdings following a convention that requires that holdings be listed "positively", i.e., missing issues will not be listed, but rather only those issues held.

More frequently, however, detailed holdings for newspapers will not be found, and only summary holdings information will be listed, with notation that the file is "incomplete", or may indicate "scattered issues only" when significant gaps exist, or "scattered issues missing" when the file is relatively complete.

Newspaper holdings information in the OCLC database

USNP cataloging records and inventory holdings data are entered into the Online Computer Library Center’s (OCLC) WORLDCAT; union list information is available through the FirstSearch service. Detailed holdings information and information relevant to interlibrary loan is available through the OCLC Union List Subsystem (ULS).

For titles cataloged and inventoried by USNP projects, holdings records in the ULS are created for all physical formats held (i.e., original newsprint, micofilm, microfiche, etc.). All holdings records for a title are linked to a single bibliographic record, usually representing the original print format. In the USNP union list, titles held in original paper format are indicated by the code "OR" (for "ORiginal copy"). Microfilm holdings are designated by the codes "FMM" (master negative, or "camera negative" film), and "FM" (service copy, also called "use" copy film - the copy made available for public use). "FMP" may be used to indicate a print negative ("print master" or "intermediate negative" film). Generally, USNP holdings statements are built using the pattern "year : month : day." The statement "<1849:1:3-9:30>" is read "1849: January 3-September 30." The statement: <1849:1:3-9:30> <1850:1:1-12:31> indicates that the gap between them (<1849:10:1-12:31>) is missing. Holdings statements entered more recently may be built as specified by current NISO holdings standards.

To determine the specific issues included in holdings simply described as "incomplete" or "scattered," film or original copy holdings must be inventoried. Holding locations may have inventories of original copy files, but if a list of missing issues has not been included on the film, the only accurate way of finding out what is missing from a reel is to examine its contents on a reader. It may be necessary to revisit the holding location to determine the completeness of a file. The effort required to obtain this information emphasizes the importance for future research of creating accurate and informative targets when filming newspaper files.

Project staff should always attempt to identify the exact relationship between the title being filmed and any related previous and successive titles, as well as any concurrently published editions (e.g. monthly, weekly, and semi-weekly versions of dailies) noted in catalog records or bibliographic sources.

Local online catalogs, web pages, and print sources

Increasingly, research libraries are providing access to local online catalogs, either directly or through web access. Holdings data will vary in appearance according to the display conventions of the local systems and to the level of detail provided. Bibliographic and scholarly print sources contain information that may help identify the various contexts - historical, cultural, geographical - in which the paper appeared. They may also identify titles for which no other extant copies have been found and therefore may not appear online.

The most widely known print sources for title, related title, dates of publication, and what were then known holdings information are Clarence S. Brigham’s History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820 (1947; updated 1962) and Winifred Gregory’s American Newspapers: A Union List of Files Available in the United States and Canada (1936). Though these are now considered to be superceded by the information compiled by USNP state projects, they still prove useful in tracking down holdings that may not have been accounted for in online products. In addition, many state projects offer printed versions of their USNP listings.

Lists of newspapers issued as part of U.S. census publications and the various newspaper publishing directories (most notably "Ayers") that began appearing toward the end of the 19th Century are also of use. Local histories of counties and individual municipalities, especially those published in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, often contain detailed accounts of newspaper publishers and publishing. State gazetteers and other compilations of state and regional geographical and historical information may include sketches of papers and the names of their publishers. Title changes and changes in the names of villages, towns, and cities are frequently documented.

Commercial micropublishers offer catalogs of titles available for purchase or "available upon request." The publisher should be contacted regarding any title not specifically listed as being available for sale. If there is no immediate plan to film it and a complete or nearly complete file is held locally, it should be considered a candidate for filming.

Review of selected titles; priority and alternate title lists

Whenever possible, USNP projects attempt to include state and local expertise into the selection process. Selection lists can be reviewed by historians, local researchers, and librarians to ensure that papers with the greatest local priority or significance are filmed. Participants in the review process should be informed of selection methodology and criteria and be made aware of any resources that may be available to support additional filming. Dividing titles into priority and alternate lists will allow for flexibility in planning, particularly where the amount of unfilmed material exceeds available funding. Alternate title listings will also prove useful if a selected title is discovered to have been filmed locally, or if a repository will not lend issues needed for filming.

Assembling Materials for Filming

Once selection and prioritization have been completed:

Arrangements to borrow newspapers should be fully documented, so that there is no question regarding the disposition of the material from the time of retrieval through the completion of the filming process.

A uniform system of documentation is recommended. Information should include the name, address, phone number and business hours of the lending location, the name of the person responsible for making the loan arrangements and accurate directions for staff making the pickup run.

Preparation staff will also need to know how much material is involved, whether or not to bring boxes and other packing equipment, and if additional time will be needed to remove the papers from storage. Retrieval dates and alternate dates should be decided well in advance.

The extent to which the material can be physically prepared for filming should be discussed with an official representative of the lending location and agreed upon in writing. Stipulations regarding the preparation of the material, insurance coverage, time during which filming must be completed, disposition of the papers after filming, or the purchasing and distribution of additional service copies should be agreed, and documented, prior to pickup.

If the condition of the papers prohibits handling except for the purpose of collation, a rough estimate should be made of the contents of boxes, bundles, or bound volumes. In addition to providing an initial record of the retrieved material, inventory is crucial to the planning of work schedules for collation staff and microfilm agencies. A copy of the inventory should be provided to the lending location and any discrepancies clarified before work begins.