Senator Reed Announces $250K to Help Digitize Historic Newspapers & Preserve RI History

August 7, 2019

PPL and RI Historical Society to take the lead on digitization project

PROVIDENCE, RI – U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) today announced $250,000 in federal funding that will help support an ongoing partnership between Providence Public Library and the Rhode Island Historical Society (RIHS) to complete an extensive newspaper digitization project that will celebrate and honor Rhode Island’s rich history by preserving historic newspapers and converting their contents into digital files.  The funds are being awarded as part of the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP), a partnership between the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Library of Congress to create a national digital resource of historically significant newspapers published between 1690 and 1963 from all the states and U.S. territories available through the Library of Congress for the first time in history.

The funds are being awarded several months after Senator Reed wrote a letter to NEH Chairman Jon Parrish Peede in support of PPL’s application.  As Reed noted in his letter, the RIHS holds a remarkable collection of microfilm reels of 314 Rhode Island newspaper titles that ceased publication prior to 1923.  However, this collection, critical to understanding the development of both the state and the nation’s rich history, remains unavailable for research in an online format.  This grant funding will enable PPL, in partnership with the RIHS, to publish a full inventory of the newspaper titles on master microfilm reels, digitize at least 100,000 pages, and promote the accessibility of these digital resources to the broader community.

“The preservation of historic newspapers in digital form is critical to our ongoing efforts to safeguard and celebrate Rhode Island’s rich history,” said Senator Reed, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee who fought to reverse President Trump’s proposed cuts to the budgets of the NEH and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).  “NEH’s nationwide initiative is an excellent way to preserve history’s first take and remember our nation’s news through good times and bad.  Providence Public Library and the Rhode Island Historical Society are uniquely positioned to lead this effort.  I congratulate them on winning this award and I look forward to seeing the final product.”

“Newspapers have always played a critical role in serving the needs of Rhode Island’s diverse population.  Throughout our history, Providence Public Library (PPL) has been committed to preserving and providing open access to our broad historical and cultural resources and collections.  We are extremely proud and excited for the opportunity to join forces with our equally committed colleagues at the Rhode Island Historical Society, and others, on this truly significant project to preserve and share Rhode Island’s common history and heritage,” said Jack MartinPPL Executive Director.

We are extraordinarily grateful to the NEH and Senator Reed’s office for their support of not only this project, but also for sharing Rhode Island’s history with the world.  Digitizing these newspapers, which span nearly 300 years, removes yet another barrier to access for students and researchers across the globe, helping to ensure that Rhode Island’s contributions to our nation, to the world, are written into the histories yet to be told.  We are delighted to partner with the Providence Public Library so that together we can continue working to make all of Rhode Island’s stories available to the public and to protect these priceless records of the life of this fascinating state,” said Dr. C. Morgan Grefe, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Historical Society.

The searchable database will be permanently maintained at the Library of Congress in Washington and will be freely accessible via the internet.  An accompanying national newspaper directory of bibliographic and holdings information on the website directs users to newspaper titles available in all types of formats.  During the course of its partnership with NEH, the Library of Congress will also digitize and contribute to the NDNP database a significant number of newspaper pages drawn from its own collections.

Principal project activities and results will include:

  • RIHS will complete full inventory of master microfilm reels. In addition to title and publication dates, research into individual titles regarding readership, editorial stance, political orientation, geographic coverage will be noted as it is available.  Second-generation silver negative duplicates will be produced.
  • Advisory Board will convene, establish decision-making protocols, & prioritize the list of titles for digitization.
  • PPL will scan, edit files and create metadata. PPL will maintain regularly scheduled quality review checks for digital files and metadata accuracy.  PPL will first submit test digitization run to RIHS for approval.
  • At least 100,000 pages will be digitized.

Senator Reed has long been an advocate and major supporter of libraries in Rhode Island and across the nation.  Last December, Reed’s bipartisanMuseum and Library Services Act of 2018 was signed into law, authorizing up to $299 million annually through 2025 to advance the roles of libraries and museums in education, lifelong learning, historic preservation, and workforce development.  The bill authorizes federal museum and library programs administered by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), an independent federal agency that helps support the more than 120,000 libraries and 35,000 museums nationwide.