Evanston Public Library digitizes Evanston’s historical newspapers


Esther Lim/The Daily Northwestern

EPL takes on a project to digitize Evanston’s historical newspapers, which part-time reference librarian Jeff Garrett said should be completed by the end of this year.

Rosie Newmark, Reporter

The Evanston Public Library is working to make sifting through newspapers less tedious and more inclusive.

Jeff Garrett, a current part-time reference librarian at EPL, is spearheading a newspaper digitization project to upgrade EPL’s online search system and make historical newspapers more accessible for the Evanston community.

 “One of our big purposes with the Evanston Review project, and combining it with African American publications, is to digitally desegregate the city of Evanston,” Garrett said.

The project aims to completely digitize the Evanston Review print newspaper, which ran from 1924 to 2009, and its three predecessor newspapers that date back to 1872, Garrett said. 

He said the library contracted NewsBank, Inc. to do the digitization for the Evanston Review. 

Garrett is also collaborating with Dino Robinson, the outgoing executive director of Shorefront Legacy Center, to digitize Evanston’s historically Black newspapers, including the Evanston Newsette and the Concerned Citizens Commitment. 

Garrett and Robinson said they want to make Evanston’s historically Black newspapers more accessible, because they felt that the history of the city’s Black community was largely missing from EPL’s other newspapers.

“It’s about accessibility and discoverability,” Robinson said. “Without having these things readily available, it runs the risk of being ignored in the general narrative. Making files as discoverable as possible helps with adding more to the historical context.” 

The database containing the digitized Evanston Review and historically Black newspapers will be available on the EPL website. Community members will be able to search the newspapers with keywords, Garrett said.

According to Garrett, the newspapers will be entirely accessible on the library website for cardholders by the end of 2023. 

The EPL board unanimously approved the project in May. Robinson, Grace Lehner from the Evanston History Center and University archivist Kevin Leonard all wrote letters of endorsement for the project. 

Leonard said his patrons’ research and interests often overlap with community sources that are not easily accessible to members of the university community. 

“Evanston newspapers are full of information that is useful to me and to my patrons,” Leonard said. “It’s another wonderful source of information that is readily and easily searchable and very rewarding to those of us who need to investigate instant history.”

Garrett said the ultimate goal of these projects is to create a platform where every Evanston newspaper, including The Daily, is available through just one search.

He said the digitization project will also help with reparations research by allowing anyone to trace the generational history of an Evanston family through a simple online search. 

According to Garrett, he used to spend hours looking through yearbooks and phone directories in order to validate residents’ claims for reparations. Once the project is complete, anyone will be able to accomplish the same task within a matter of minutes.

“I feel that we basically restored the memory that the city of Evanston has of itself,” Garrett said. “This is now available without coming to the library and without calling. Anybody can do it from their home computer or from their phone.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @newmarkrose

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