With NEH grant, libraries preserve 100,000 more pages of the past

September 9, 2015
Alisson Clark
history, libraries, digitization, newspapers, Florida

Tampa wallowed beneath three feet of water. Jacksonville was buffeted by 60 mile-per-hour winds. Snapped power lines sparked fires in St. Augustine, and Orlando went dark as power plants failed, pummeled by a Category 3 hurricane. Nearly 100 years after that storm, we can still trace its impact from the headlines of newspapers digitized by the University of Florida libraries.

UF’s George A. Smathers Libraries recently received $288,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities to make pages from historic newspapers available digitally, supplementing a $325,000 grant from 2013 and adding up to the largest direct award in the libraries’ history. The funds will be used to digitize 100,000 additional pages as part of the Florida and Puerto Rico Digital Newspaper Project, a collaboration between UF and the University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras. The project provides free online access to historically significant Florida and Puerto Rican newspapers published from 1836 to 1922.

In addition to the 1921 storm – which struck before the advent of today’s storm-naming convention – the newspapers detail other natural disasters, such as the freezes that swept Florida in 1894 and 1895. They follow the rise and fall of railroads and steamboats, citrus and cattle, sugar cane and phosphate. They trace the impact of the Civil, Seminole and World Wars. And now they will be available worldwide.

“Because these pages are not just on microfilm anymore, it completely changes the access. Anybody with an Internet connection can see them,” said project director Patrick Reakes, the libraries’ associate dean of scholarly resources and services. “It’s also a more sustainable way to preserve them. Microfilm gets old and brittle and hard to read. Once these pages are digitized, they’re safe. They’ll still be readable in the future.”

The digitized papers will be available through the Library of Congress Chronicling America, the University of Florida Libraries Florida Digital Newspaper Library and the Biblioteca Digital Puertorriqueña at the University of Puerto Rico.  


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