CHNC: Making Historic Newspapers Easily Available to Your Patrons

The Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection (CHNC) has partnered with many libraries and cultural heritage institutions around the state of Colorado in helping to digitize historic newspaper collections. One key reason why institutions choose to partner with CHNC is local interest in local history. For a patron researching local history, for example, newspapers represent a major source of material. And that’s not to mention the fact that old newspapers are fascinating windows to our collective story!

Unfortunately, newspapers, particularly older newspapers, can be very fragile and are therefore not well suited for general patron use (especially nowadays). This means that many local libraries have accumulated physical copies of newspapers (sometimes many newspapers), which for the most part sit unused in an archive. Yet, we know that there is a lot of interest in historic newspapers in the public. The solution? Digitize! Once a new collection is on the CHNC website, it is available for anyone anywhere to see, but that alone doesn’t guarantee that people will find it.

Here are some ways of driving users to your shiny new digitized collection!

MARC Records

Let’s start with your own library’s catalog. One way to make it easier for patrons to find newspaper content is to add our readymade MARC records to your catalog. That way, patrons searching your online collection will be given newspaper results in among all your other items. Each MARC record includes a direct link to the title in question in the CHNC. Click here to find out more about getting started with MARC records.

The CHNC Widget

And then there is your library’s website. Consider creating a dedicated page/section on historic newspapers. We also created a nifty CHNC widget which can be embedded directly into your library’s website and allows for a direct connection with the CHNC collection. Find out more about that here, including how you can set the widget to retrieve results only for the newspaper titles you want. Even if you haven’t partnered with CHNC yet, you are still more than welcome to use the widget to connect your patrons with local interest publications.

Here’s how the Lake County Public Library website uses the CHNC widget

Text Correction

Another idea for driving traffic is to hold an OCR text correction competition for your local community. “Text correction” is where volunteers donate their time by correcting the text generated by OCR (automated text recognition software), enabling the content of the digitized newspapers to become keyword searchable and more discoverable on the internet. Holding a competition (with prize incentives, of course!) can be a great way to help improve the quality of CHNC, to be of service to the greater historical community, and to increase engagement in our state’s history.

In April 2020, CHNC held its own text correction competition and the results speak for themselves: during the competition period (April 1-April 15), 66 volunteers corrected a whopping total of 121,267 lines! Before the contest, there were about 600 pageviews a week of people doing text correcting. Those pageviews jumped to a peak of almost 2,800 pageviews in the week of April 26. Click here to read more about the CHNC text correction competition.

Other Helpful Tools

We use Google analytics to track traffic such as was mentioned in the previous paragraph. We also create Google analytics dashboards where we can track traffic by newspaper title, and we are happy to share such data with your library on request. This can help to quantify what is and isn’t working in terms of driving interest to online collections. Another great resource is Veridian’s Knowledge Base. (Veridian is the online platform which CHNC uses.) Check out their articles about best practices for newspaper and archive digitization projects for some practical tips and tricks on the more technical side of newspaper digitization.

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Have ideas of your own? We’d love to hear from you. Driving traffic to the right place is so important, as there are websites out there that monetize content which is available for free elsewhere on the internet (CHNC is totally free to the end user!). For more information on the online historic newspaper landscape, check out this article on that very issue.

For more information on CHNC, or if you have questions about applying any of these CHNC features, we are here to help. Contact Leigh Jeremias, Digital Collections Coordinator at ljeremias@coloradovirtuallibrary.org.

Michael Peever