The Museum of Northwest Colorado is working to digitize newspaper archives from 1945 to 1982 in an effort to better preserve this period of local history and make the records more available for research.

The museum houses over a century of original journals, containing local records of events and history often requested by different types of scholars.

A proposed project — budgeted in Craig’s 2023 budget for $24,000 — will digitize the Craig Empire-Courier newspapers from 1945 to 1982 on the Colorado Historic Newspaper Collection, which is a free website provided by the Colorado State Library.

The Historical Newspaper Collection already contains images of local publications from 1891 to 1945, which are optimized on the website using optical character recognition, making printed words searchable on a computer.

“It’s a game-changer for a golden era of research – we have access to the logs for a piece of history and a part of the region where people traveled a lot,” said Paul Knowles, deputy director of the museum. “It helps connect dates in other stories that have been written and explain exactly how events happened and on what dates they happened.”

Currently, to research newspapers published after 1945, museum staff must pull original copies out of large filing cabinets in the museum basement.

“You usually need to know when a story happened so you can pull out the book and search through the pages to find it,” Knowles said, adding that some of the original copies, especially those from the late 1800s, begin to deteriorate and become difficult to handle.

Since the late 1800s there have been several publications covering local news, such as the Pantagraph, which ran from 1891 to 1895; the Craig Courier, which operated from 1895 to 1902 and again from 1922 to 1928; and the Craig Empire, which operated from 1911 to 1929.

The Craig Empire-Courier was a combination of two former publications and the successor to the previous newspapers until it ceased publication in 1982. The digitization project will bring the historical newspaper collection up to date with the Craig Empire-Courier.

Since negative images, or microfilms, of materials taken by the Colorado State Library already exist, it should be fairly simple to scan the microfilms and upload them to the collection.

“Colorado has done an excellent job of preserving its logs,” said museum director Dan Davidson.

Optical character recognition, which makes the printout of the newspaper searchable, is where the cost of the project comes in, Davidson explained. However, once the pages are uploaded to the collection, the newspapers can be searched by date, county, city, year, names, keywords, or just about any other parameter.

“It’s an unlimited resource that can inform other sources,” Knowles said. “Particularly for the era we are filing, it is a period that people who are alive today actually have memories of.”

These are key decades because as residents age, there are fewer people to ask about the 40s, 50s and 60s, Davidson said. Being able to reference newspapers from a certain time period or for certain events should allow researchers to confirm details and double-check sources.

“Historically, the local newspaper is like the two legs of a four-legged chair. It is truly invaluable. What you are doing is opening a community’s information history.

Dan Davidson, director of the Museum of Northwest Colorado

The museum is known for its intensive research, and because of this, the museum staff receives many inquiries from authors, genealogists, and other researchers.

“Not a day goes by that we aren’t on this website,” Knowles said, adding that staff sometimes receive articles they know nothing about until they come across details in a newspaper. which helps them learn more.

“We are constantly able to find more information about our artifacts through this resource,” Knowles said.

One of the museum’s greatest assets is newspaper obituaries, as it can help people track down family records. Logs also carry the history of a community and can help people know when a building was built, which can be helpful in gaining historic status.

“And for me, that’s what makes it fun – you’re looking at the actual newspaper – it helps you get a sense of the period,” said Knowles, who shared an image of an old Pantagraph newspaper with people. tears, wrinkles and folds.

The original log details may also contain brief clips or advertisements containing specific information that may not be expanded upon elsewhere.

The optical character recognition is as good as the picture, and some of the pictures were taken a long time ago. In older fonts, the letters may sometimes be wrong, or the original reporter may have misspelled them.

Because of this, Knowles said searchers might need to broaden their searches or look for similar keywords that might be associated with the information they’re looking for. While there are some nuances, Knowles said, digital archives can get researchers most of the way.

Once the museum gets city approval, the Colorado Historical Newspaper Collection can begin scanning the digital images and uploading optical character recognition. Davidson didn’t have a specific timeline for the project, but he anticipated it could be done in about a month or two.