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Dispatches from the National Digital Newspaper Program Annual Meeting

October 8, 2015 | By Leah Weinryb Grohsgal

Since 2005, the National Digital Newspaper Program, a partnership between NEH, the Library of Congress (LC), and state institutions, has sought to bring open access to historic American newspapers to the general public.  The product of that partnership, the Chronicling America website, now holds 10 million digitized newspaper pages from 40 state and territorial partners.  NDNP is a deeply collaborative project, and every fall representatives from state partners across the country meet to discuss their work bringing digitized newspapers to scholars, researchers, genealogists, K-12 students, and more.  Representatives of the libraries, state archives, and research centers currently participating in the program convened in Washington, DC, on September 16-17, 2015, for presentations and discussions at NEH and the Library of Congress.

The meeting kicked off at NEH headquarters with a morning “boot camp” session for new awardees, which included interesting presentations from Cory Lampert (NV) on “Tales of a New Awardee” and Kimberly Smith (SD) on working with an advisory panels to select content.

In “NDNP & Chronicling America: What’s New,” the Library of Congress’s Deborah Thomas revealed the exciting news that Chronicling America will now accept submissions in virtually any language.  Current collections in German, Spanish, French, and Italian have been a boon to researchers, and NEH and LC are pleased to expand the scope of foreign-language newspaper content.  Stay tuned for more details when the updated NDNP guidelines are posted later this month.

Later in the afternoon, a panel on “Chronicling America’s Ethnic and Foreign-Language Press,” reported on some of the non-English newspaper content already included in Chronicling America.  State partners Chandler Lighty (IN), Melissa Espino (FL/PR), and Jane Wong (MN) discussed their projects’ efforts to digitize and advertise newspapers in German, Spanish, and other languages. 

A second panel, “Family History Research Using Chronicling America” welcomed Frank Boles and Kim Hagerty (MI), Erenst Anip and Karyn Norwood (VT), and Louisa Trott (TN) to discuss the genealogical research audience—one of Chronicling America’s largest and most enthusiastic user groups!

Finally, NEH Chairman William “Bro” Adams gave rousing remarks to close the first day of the meeting.  He congratulated project staff on reaching 40 state and territorial partners, and spoke about the NDNP’s important role in his “Common Good” initiative to bring the humanities into the public square.  In particular, the Chairman praised the growing number of ethnic and immigrant press titles in Chronicling America, which help represent the diversity of the American experience.  Attendees then adjourned for a reception hosted by NEH.

The second day of the conference, held at the Library of Congress, featured presentations on managing these complex projects, including issues of collection management, access, data storage and integration, collaborative partnerships between states, and sustainability.  Presenters included Jo Miles-Seely (MS), Henry Morse and Errol Somay (VA), Sarah Lynn Fisher (TX), Natasha Hollenbach (MT), Karen Estlund (OR/PA), Barbara Ilie and John Blythe (NC), Brian Geiger (CA), and Ana Krahmer (TX).

A session chaired by NEH’s EDSITEment brought two experienced teachers to Washington: Amanda Hilliard Smith, a Social Studies Teacher at Beaufort County Early College High School in Washington, North Carolina; and Jami Forrester, Associate Professor at Northwest Arkansas Community College and the National History Day Arkansas Region 10 Coordinator.  They discussed how news stories in Chronicling America have enabled them to teach about both well-known and forgotten events in America’s past such as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911, as well as helping students explore the biases that can be present in historic news stories.

Finally, in a series of lightning talks, project directors including Jane Cullinane (CT), Liz Caringola (MD), Patrick Reakes (FL), Stewart Plein (WV), Brian Geiger (CA), Karen Estlund (OR/PA), and Sheila Rabun (OR) presented their state and collaborative efforts at outreach, promotion, preservation, data use, and software adaptation.  Attendees then attended a reception hosted by the Library of Congress in celebration of reaching 10 million pages.

All in all, the 2015 National Digital Newspaper Program annual meeting was a success!  Project directors exchanged ideas about many aspects of newspaper digitization and participation in the nationwide effort to digitize America’s historic newspapers.  The fruits of their labors are available to all in Chronicling America.