Surfing past centuries through digitized local newspapers

Historical Society spearheaded effort to digitize archives of The Courier-Gazette
By Daniel Dunkle | Mar 20, 2019
Photo by: Daniel Dunkle Talking about the digitization of The Courier-Gazette archives March 20 at the Rockland Historical Society are, from left, Adam Fisher of the Maine State Library, Rockland Historical Society Curator Ann Morris and society President Brian Harden.

Rockland — When Ann Morris of the Rockland Historical Society heard about efforts to digitize newspapers from around the country, she made it her mission to include The Courier-Gazette.

It has taken a lot of time, effort and help from community donors and organizations, but now anyone with internet access can read copies of The Courier-Gazette spanning from its beginning in 1846 to 1920. Soon newspapers from the 1920s and '30s will be added.

Morris started working on this more than a year ago, after hearing about the effort in other places at a meeting. She brought the idea to the Rockland Historical Society, and the society reached out to local publishers, including Courier owner Reade Brower.

In order to create digital versions of the old newspapers, they needed the microfilm master copies from a company called New England Micrographics in Boston. In some cases, the original newspapers are available, but newsprint has not held up very well over the years and the information was better preserved on microfilm. Interestingly, some of the paper from before the Civil War has held up better, because it incorporated cloth.

The price tag for the first phase of this project was more than $8,000.

Partners and donors helped with that, including Courier Publications; Maine Boats, Homes and Harbors; Down East Enterprises; The Owls Head Transportation Museum; The Sail Power & Steam Museum; The Farnsworth Art Museum; The Rockland Public Library Endowment Association; and Friends of the Rockland Public Library. In addition, a grant form the Maine Community Foundation in 2018 was enough to digitize the 1920s and 1930s.

The work is not done. The first phase has been released on the Rockland Public Library website, which allows readers to look at the old newspapers, but it is not yet easy to search for specific names or other information.

Adam Fisher, director of collection development and digital initiatives for the Maine State Library, has been working to create a more easily searchable version, some of which is already available online (see website information below for links). He pointed out that this is a meticulous process in which every photo and every imperfection or missing page is noted in the system.

The digitized versions will likely be available on multiple websites in the future, including VillageSoup and the Historical Society website.

Fisher and members of the Historical Society agree that it was Morris' determination, as well as the help of donors, that made this a reality.

Eventually Morris hopes to have a digital archive going through the 1970s. More donations and help from interns are needed. To help or to work as an intern, contact the Historical Society, located on the lower level of the Rockland Public Library, and at P.O. Box 1331, Rockland, ME 04841 or call 594-6193. Or visit the Rockland Historical Society website at rocklandhistorical.com.

The digitized Courier-Gazette is available at the historical society's website and also at digitalmaine.com/rockland/ or rocklandmaine.gov/municipal/departments/library/resources/archived-rockland-newspapers/.

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