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Schroepfer-Bertrand Research Fund provides digital access to past Sleepy Eye newspapers

Submitted
Two photos of MNHS’s Mekel Mach12 microfilm scanner used in the Sleepy Eye newspapers project.  MNHS first sends the microfilm reel out for cleaning and possible repair to assure they won’t break during processing.  Upon return the microfilm reels are sent through the Mekel to produce high-quality digital files at a rate of 1-2 newspaper pages per second. As the frames are scanned they pop up in two rows at the top of the monitor — fast and furious. After the digital files are created, they are sent on to specialists for post-processing and eventual uploading to the Newspaper Hub.  And an artist's rendition of St Mary’s Church in advance of the July 4, 1901 cornerstone laying (June 13, 1901 issue).

Historic Sleepy Eye newspapers are now available at no charge on the Minnesota Historical Society’s (MNHS) Minnesota Digital Newspaper Hub (mnhs.org/newspapers/hub). The 6,500 or so pages uploaded to date represent Stage One of a multi-year project to place public domain Sleepy Eye newspapers on the Newspaper Hub.

Stage One includes issues of the Farmer’s Criterion (a November 1875 issue), the Sleepy Eye Wide-Awake (a July 1979 issue), the Brown County Pioneer (three issues from 1881), the Brown County Republican (83 issues from 1881-83) and the Sleepy Eye Dispatch (945 issues from 1890 to 1908). 

Four subsequent stages of 6,000 pages each will be added to the Hub every other month or so until completion by September 2021. Those stages will include the Sleepy Eye Herald (1882-1908), the Sleepy Eye Progressive (1916-25), and the Herald-Dispatch (1908-25).

The Newspaper Hub’s ProSeek® software offers numerous research features including selection by title and date range, word search, printing or downloading in PDF format, and copying selections to your PC clipboard in optical character recognition (OCR) text.

This project, under the direction of Anne Levin, Digital Newspaper Manager for the Minnesota Historical Society, was made possible through funding provided by the Schroepfer-Bertrand Research Fund from Jean and Mark Schroepfer. Mark is a retired business executive residing in Western Wisconsin. He attended St Mary’s School from eighth grade until his graduation in 1965.

The Sleepy Eye newspapers will join other donor funded digitization in the Minnesota Digital Newspaper Hub, as well as newspapers digitized through the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, the Library of Congress and National Endowment for the Humanities National Digital Newspaper Program, grants, and collaborations with libraries and local historical societies throughout Minnesota. The Newspaper Hub currently holds 3.8 million newspaper pages and is growing with additions each month.

When asked of his motivation for this project, Mark explained: “Newspapers are a primary source of historical research that, within lawful rights, should be available in high-quality, digital form to any person at any location without charge, using common technology tools. Given my Schroepfer-Bertrand ancestry and its connections to so many in the Sleepy Eye area, Sleepy Eye newspapers would be a great place to start — but I had no idea how to make this happen. Fortuitously, MNHS had invested in equipment and personnel to bring the microfilm-to-digital conversion process in-house and created an opportunity for private individuals to fund digital newspaper projects. MNHS was extremely helpful and open during our review process. I became sold on their high quality, cost effective process.”

Since image quality is reduced in converting newspapers to microfilm, the digitization process, to assure accurate word search and text transfer results, must be designed to enhance it. To this end, MNHS adopted the exacting quality standards of the Library of Congress’ National Digital Newspaper Program specifications. Fifteen samples from Stage One averaged above 95% word accuracy — a superb result, given the aged newspaper microfilm source.

During the first quarter of 2021, MNHS will undertake a due diligence study of Herald-Dispatch newspapers dating from 1926 to 1963 to confirm compliance with fair use doctrine criteria for research and educational materials. Once confirmed, additional Sleepy Eye newspaper stages are planned.

“Digital access to collections and digital delivery of mission are strategic priorities of the Society,” said Jennifer Pogatchnik, MNHS Chief Development Officer. “Through public and private partnerships, including that of members like the Schroepfers, MNHS continues to make these valuable resources available to all Minnesotans.”

If you're interested in learning more about how you can support their digitization efforts, please contact Jennifer Pogatchnik at 651-491-5684 or by email at Jennifer.Pogatchnik@mnhs.org.