Rescuing Old Newspapers: The American Newspaper Repository

Several years ago I read Double Fold, by Nicholson Baker, an alarming book that describes the short-sighted decision of many libraries to transfer their old books and newspapers to microfilm, and subsequently destroy the originals. In the process of researching the book, Baker discovered that the British Library intended to discard its large collection of 19th and early 20th century newspapers, many of them beautifully illustrated. This was the era of Little Nemo and The Yellow Kid, when the paper was much prettier and more colorful than it is now, USA Today notwithstanding. Baker bought the bound volumes and established the American Newspaper Repository. Here is an example of the gorgeous illustrations used in newspapers of that time.

“No trust”

The Repository website has these images of original newspaper illustrations and their microfilm versions for comparison.

Bathing plunksBathing plunks microfilmNot only is the image quality of microfilm abysmal, it also disintegrates much more quickly than paper, so books and ephemera that might have been around for centuries may be lost in just a few decades because of these library policies.

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