August 17, 2017

Preserving News On the Margins: MetaArchive and Digital News Preservation

Newspapers and periodicals authored by and for marginalized communities arguably number among our most important historical collections in libraries and archives today. Researchers have long relied on news sources by and for marginalized groups—from African-American newspapers to labor union publications, from temperance newspapers to refugee periodicals, and from lesbian ‘zines to religious serials—to reveal the density of perspectives and experiences embedded in U.S. local and national cultures.

The voices of marginalized communities, including those defined by such identity markers as skin color, ethnic origin, religious affiliation, sexuality, geography, and social class, are often invisible in mainstream news sources. Understanding the diverse experiences of people in the United States requires us to turn to sources written, produced, and disseminated by the broadest possible constellation of people.

Archives, libraries, and museums have rarely collected these sources at the time that they were published. Instead, community members have typically saved these newspapers in attics, closets, and basements; their value for the historical record is often recognized by archives, libraries, and museums many years after their production. Once these sources are collected, they are often cataloged and provided in individual organizational frameworks, making them very difficult to track across libraries and archives.

In Fall 2017, Educopia Institute and the MetaArchive Cooperative, in partnership with the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), have undertaken a project that seeks to collaboratively and comprehensively record where these newspapers are, what condition they are in, what formats they include, and what level of accessibility they have for the public. We are focusing our energy first on content created by two communities whose news, past and present, is in greater demand than ever in our current political climate: 1) African American newspapers and periodicals, and 2) LGBT newspapers and periodicals.

Beginning in mid-August, the project team will launch a nationwide campaign to record this information, archive by archive, library by library, and museum by museum, using crowdsourcing technologies and methodologies. Working together across the field, we can build a collective understanding of what content exists and where it is. Once this is known, the archives, library, and museum communities will be able to make informed decisions regarding how to ensure the broadest possible access to and use of this content.

This presentation will discuss the different ways we are approaching data gathering and synthesis in this project–from crowdsourcing to bibliography-mining, and from historical content to current breaking news. We will also discuss the lessons learned and next steps planned for using the data framework and model to build directories of additional marginalized community newspapers and periodicals in the future.