The Maine State library is seeking French-language newspapers in an effort to digitally preserve the culture of the state’s Franco-American community.
The project was inspired by the work of Franco-American culture programs at the University of Maine and will become an important learning resource for research into the state’s migrant ancestry.
So far, 33 newspaper titles have been identified, dating from the 1870s to the 1970s—but of those only 16 can currently be tracked using the library, historical society or museum collections. The remaining newspapers are varied in condition and conservators are concerned that without intervention, they may be lost altogether.
Adam Fisher, director of Collections Development and Digital Initiatives at the library, explains that the team is about to proceed with a fourth round of a nationally-funded work to digitize discontinued Maine newspapers. “We are afraid that some of these titles may have been completely lost to time,” he says. “Our last hope is that someone may have copies squirreled away in the back of a closet or in an attic and would be willing to loan them to us so that we can take images of the pages for the purposes of digitization and preservation.” Focusing on underrepresented communities, previous rounds of the library’s digitization work has celebrated the Acadian people of Maine and the folklore and folklife of the St. John Valley.
Supported by the National Digital Newspaper Program of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), funding will allow the library to digitize approximately 100,000 pages of historical Maine newspapers which will ultimately become part of the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America historic newspaper portal.
A long-term project, Chronicling America is working to develop an Internet-based, searchable database of US newspapers. It provides a comprehensive directory, descriptive information and a select range of digitized historic pages. Permanently maintained at the Library of Congress, Chronicling America currently holds newspaper material in 19 languages, including Arabic, Slovak, Danish, Swedish, Dakota, and French, and provides a language-specific search bar. According to the Library of Congress, a planned NEH award program will eventually fund the contribution of content from all U.S. states and territories.
For Maine, this is a profound step in both preserving the state’s history and developing education. With the announcement of the first digitization efforts, Governor Janet T. Mills said “People of Franco-American, including Acadian ancestry are at the heart of Maine. I am proud to join the Maine State Library in announcing these projects, which will preserve their history for future generations. Going forward, anyone will be able to easily access these historical records online, protecting the original documents and supporting public education at the same time.”