Through a century of major, sustained investment in acquisition, documentation and preservation, North American research libraries have amassed a vast and valuable corpus of newspapers from all regions of the world. Those libraries’ aggregate holdings of newspapers in paper and micro-formats span four centuries and constitute a body of historical and cultural evidence that is not replicated elsewhere.
Microform, the chief means of access to these primary source materials, affords only limited use and discoverability of the newspaper contents. Consequently various national libraries, including the Bibliotheque Nationale de France, British Library, Library and Archives Canada, Library of Congress, and the Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek, have begun to digitize back runs of their respective domestic newspapers. These national projects, however, are not likely to provide access to newspapers from regions outside of the United States, Canada, Europe, and the United Kingdom. Hence, CRL and a number of major North American research libraries are exploring undertaking the systematic, large scale digitization of world newspapers and news-related materials from their paper and microform holdings.
These institutions might bring to bear their expertise and resources to digitize and make available for scholarly use, through the Web and other electronic means, a portion of their holdings of newspapers from the following regions:
- Latin America and the Caribbean
- Sub-Saharan Africa
- The Middle East
- Slavic and Eastern Europe
- South Asia
- Southeast Asia
- East Asia
Such an initiative would obviously have to be undertaken on a multi-year, multi-stage basis. An initial goal of the endeavor would be to digitize and present in electronic form several million pages of newspapers within a five-year period. An effort on this scale would require CRL to enlist the support of an appropriate electronic publishing partner that would provide the needed capabilities and services in return for an interest in the project.
To test the waters, CRL has invited a number of electronic publishers, aggregators, and other organizations (both commercial and nonprofit) to submit general proposals for partnership in this endeavor. The prospective partner organization(s) will be expected to invest funds and in-kind services in the endeavor, and could expect to accrue an appropriate return on their investment.
CRL and its affiliates would expect to derive from the endeavor benefits commensurate with their investment in the project as well. If viable, the project methodology could provide a template for the conversion and electronic delivery of other kinds of primary source materials from the collections of CRL and its member libraries.
With a sense of the publishers’ interest, CRL and its affiliates will then explore prospects for additional funding.