A staff of two at the Indiana State Library is working to preserve what is left of the printed record of Indiana's history as the yellowing, crumbling newspapers that chronicled Hoosiers' lives deteriorate with age.
"We really want, for Indiana's bicentennial, to create a resource for all of Indiana to reflect state history as well as local history," said Connie Rendfeld, digital initiatives librarian for the Indiana State Library.
The project's goal, as part of Indiana's bicentennial celebrations in 2016, is to have digitized historic papers from every county in the state.
There are currently no newspapers from Northwest Indiana involved in the project. Representatives from The Times Media Co. and the Indiana State Library began discussions last week aimed at finding a way to change that.
Chandler Lighty, newspaper digitization program manager for the state library, said documenting the history of the region -- particularly of the steel mills and the Great Migration -- through its newspapers is key.
"It's a very important part of the state that we don't have access to for our project," Lighty said.
For more than a century, newspapers have preserved copies of their printed work using microfilm, which involved capturing photographic images of the pages on small reels of film which are then viewed on large machines that magnify the images on a screen.
The Times has used that process since 1906, when the newspaper was called The Lake County Times. Patricia Kincaid, The Times' librarian, said The Times has about 2,100 reels of microfilm, not including the microfilm records from The Vidette-Messenger housed at the Valparaiso Public Library.
In recent years, however, the microfilming process has become challenging.
"We know that that equipment is quickly becoming a dinosaur," Kincaid said. "We had a service man out and he said, 'Oh, you have one of those? I don't even think there are spare parts for that.'"
Kincaid, who has managed The Times' microfilm archives for the last decade, recently began exploring the option of how to preserve the newspaper's print editions digitally.
Editorial Page Editor Doug Ross in late March received a press release about the Indiana State Library's Digital Historic Newspaper Program and shared the information with Kincaid.
Kincaid said it seemed to be the perfect match.
"I just thought with the bicentennial approaching, it just made more sense to go to the Indiana State Library," Kincaid said.
The Times -- the second largest newspaper in the state -- is the first newspaper to discuss a partnership with the project, Rendfeld said.
A decade ago, the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities created Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. The project aims to digitize newspaper papers as a source of historic content across the country and to provide public access free of charge.
The National Endowment for the Humanities offered grants to each state for digitizing projects. The Indiana State Library and the Indiana Historical Society received two cycles of grant funding which allow for digitizing newspapers from 1826 to 1923.
The Indiana project uses microfilm reels which are scanned by one vendor into various digital formats. Another vendor then works with the digital copies make them fully searchable for the online audience.
The process costs $27 per roll of microfilm and 56 cents per page. Complete editions of newspapers -- minus the inserts and advertisements -- are digitized.
"We can do 100,000 images in two years," Rendfeld said. "It's fairly time consuming."
The first federal grant was $250,000, which covered digitizing the first 100,000 pages. The state is in the second cycle of the work now through a renewed grant award.
With grant money running out, the state is pursuing other funding mechanisms. A foundation has been established to help support the efforts and non-profit status for the group is pending.
"We've started getting pieces together to continue the process in house after the grant moneys are gone," Rendfeld said.
William Nangle, executive editor of The Times, said he supports the project's mission.
"This is a very interesting, valuable program and a huge undertaking," Nangle said. "There's still a lot of history to be gathered from all the archives we have."
Bob Heisse, editor of The Times, agreed.
"We're the ones who have the history of the community," Heisse said.