UNM Libraries received a more than $350,000 grant to resurrect hundreds of thousands of New Mexico newspapers, some of which are 150 years old.

The National Endowment for the Humanities awarded UNM Libraries the grant to digitize 100,000 pages from New Mexican newspapers that date between 1860-1922.

Michael Kelly, director for the Center of Southwest research, said a board will select which of UNM’s collection of newspapers will be digitized.

“Since UNM Libraries hold the largest col­lec­tion of New Mex­ico news­pa­pers on micro­film, we want to take the ini­tia­tive and make these and other unique resources freely avail­able to every­one in New Mexico,” Kelly said, in an Aug. 2 news release.

UNM Libraries employees will make the digitized newspapers available for the Library of Congress’ “Chronicling America” online database as well as a New Mexico’s digital database.

By Vanessa Sanchez
A worker stocks microfilm on shelves. The university received a large-sum grant to aid with digitizing and archiving old New Mexican newspapers.

Kelly said the major benefit of online public access is the speed and accuracy it brings to research.
“Before, you had to go get the box of materials, go through the box folder by folder, scan what you wanted,” Kelly said.

“Before, scholarship was much more linear. Now there is so much more (online), and you have a chance to compare and contrast.”
Kathlene Ferris, digital programs manager for University Libraries, said UNM has been collecting and microfilming New Mexico papers for years.
Kelly estimates UNM has 500 wheels of microfilms with 1,000 pages on each wheel.

Kelly said that UNM has 15 partners around New Mexico who all contribute to the database’s content. It includes music, videos, photographs, and posters, all of which UNM professors can use in lecture presentations. Individuals worldwide can use the materials in their own research or projects.

New Mexico’s Digital Collections will augment its existing collection through the new grant. The database can be navigated by searching for a particular person, place or event.

Kelly said the focus will be on digitizing newspapers that deal with New Mexico issues.
“We want a good sampling from the whole state,” Kelly said.

Graduate students selected for a fellowship will do research that affects what papers are chosen to be converted, as well as write newspaper histories for the Library of Congress website and prepare UNM’s microfilms to digitized, Kelly said. UNM will also be working with the University of North Texas on the project.

Instead of recreating the reel every time, Kelly said, UNM will utilize the expertise of UNT archivists. He said that since the grant is only for two years, there isn’t enough time to train UNM staff, and it would be cheaper to use an outside company to convert the microfilms.
Spanish language newspapers cannot yet be digitized because of computer software constraints, but both Ferris and Kelly said they hope that technological improvements will have been made when they reapply for the grant in 2012.