As technology continues to change the way the world works, obtaining information has become easier than ever. No longer does one rely on pigeons to carry messages of significance, nor is the encyclopedia used for anything more than home décor.
But as the future becomes the present, the past is being forgotten, which is why the Iowa City Public Library has made its mission to preserve local history through a modern scope.
Melody Dworak and Candice Smith, librarians and history buffs at the library, pushed the initiative after a neighbor was successful at a similar endeavor.
“At some point, we saw that Cedar Rapids had digitalized the Gazette, and it had the full archive,” Dworak said. “Our Information Desk needs newspapers because they have the information that we’re looking for when we receive a history question. So, when we saw the Gazette was digitalized, we thought, ‘How could we do that here?’ ”
Although the Public Library has been aware of the importance of creating easily accessible ways for people to browse through what was only microfilm before, the possibility was uncertain until it was introduced to Advantage Preservation.
A company from Cedar Rapids that digitalizes microfilm, Advantage Preservation, solely performs the material turnover but works closely with the Public Library to “collaborate on all of the individual pages of each paper to get them into a platform that people can search,” Dworak said.
Covering 1840 to 1923, the newly digitalized archive will allow individuals to dive deeper into the roots of the local community, one’s own genealogy, specific topics of interest, as well as anything else that could be best answered by blowing off the dust of years gone by.
“All of the articles, to our knowledge, are in the public domain,” Dworak said. “So when you use the website we have about 50 newspaper titles for the Iowa City area.”
The use of the database only requires that one has internet and a browser, meaning that “you could send this link to anyone in the world, and they’ll be able to research with no problem,” Smith said.
Yet for anyone who prefers to scan history through the reels of microfilm, that opportunity will continue to be available.
“People who want to look at the microfilm will still do it, people who prefer to use the database will certainly use it, and people who want to come to the library will still come,” Smith said. “This can only be a good thing.”
Maeve Clark, the library adult services coordinator, can personally account for the effect the digitalized collection has had on her research.
“I have to prevent myself from starting a new search because once I start it is difficult to stop,” she said in an email to The Daily Iowan.
Now active for its constituents, the library’s newspaper database is more than about keeping up with the times. This task was a project from the heart.