More than 100 years of The Daily Northwestern to be digitized

Kris Anne Bonifacio

The history of Northwestern as seen through the school newspaper will now be digitized as a result of a deal with NewsBank.

Newsbank President and CEO Dan Jones approached Students Publishing Company, which publishes The Daily, about transforming the historical contents of The Daily dating back more than 100 years ago to a digital, searchable version. Jones, who graduated from the Kellogg School of Management in 1961, serves on the University Board of Trustees and is the president-elect of the Northwestern Alumni Association.

SPC and the University Archives are working together to compile the old issues of The Daily. University Archivist Kevin Leonard said he is thrilled with the news.

“It’s the best news I’ve had in a long time,” he said. “We have 140 years worth of Northwestern college newspaper here, and while we have it physically, it has never been indexed and never been searchable.”

Leonard said because the information is not easily searchable, it discourages people from using it often or efficiently.

“People use The Daily Northwestern or its early predecessors essentially every day that we’re open here, but it’s such a labor intensive work that it disappoints people,” Leonard said. “We have this tantalizing amount of information, but it’s hard to get at.”

For someone to find something in the newspaper’s archives, they have to know exactly what they’re looking for and have a ballpark estimate of the date when it occurred, Leonard said. He compared it to finding a needle in a haystack.

“This will make such a huge difference to our patrons,” Leonard said. “You could spend weeks and months just flipping through (the editions) if you have no idea where to find something. This project will open up those records to much more use.”

Leonard acknowledged the project will not only make the information in the old newspaper more easily accessible, but it will also preserve it.

“Newsprint is printed in a type of paper meant for immediate consumption, not longtime preservation,” he said. “In the first half of the 20th century, the type of paper they used is very brittle.”

Leonard said throughout the years, the papers have torn and flaked off, endangering the valuable information only found in those newspapers. He said from the 19th to the early 20th century, no one was saving institutional records of NU, and the information the University Archives has on the history of the school from that period comes primarily from the newspapers.

“It has gotten to the point where it discourages us from making it available for casual browsing because the act of flipping through the books really damages them,” Leonard said. “Little bits of paper come off when someone goes through those books, and it even requires a clean-up job after.”

University Archives and several of the other library departments, such as digital collections and special libraries, are working on acquiring all the archives. The library has already digitized Tripod and Vidette in the past, which they will give to NewsBank along with the later decades of The Northwestern and The Daily.

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