The US Caribbean & Florida Digital Newspaper Project celebrates 10 years of continuous digitization!

Principal Investigator Patrick Reakes and Co-Principal Investigator Melissa Jerome reflect on 10 years of the project. 

Patrick Reakes: Principal Investigator 2013-2025 
Senior Associate Dean, Scholarly Resources and Services 
George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida 

As we’re reaching the end of our 5th round as participants/awardees in the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP) and, hopefully, the beginning of round 6, it seems like a good time to look back and reflect on the last 10 years working on the project. I can honestly say without reservation that it has been the most fulfilling and enjoyable part of my career in librarianship. The majority of my library career has been focused on areas related to journalism and newspapers and the fact that the project focuses on digitizing historic newspapers has been a perfect fit.

Front page of the Key West Citizen Feb 20, 1926
Front page from Pat’s favorite paper, The Key West Citizen February 20, 1926

There are any number of reasons why I’ve enjoyed my work with NDNP so much. It’s a very unique collaboration between two separate government entities, the Library of Congress (LC) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), a rarity in the world of funded grants. The core idea that the project exists to make millions of pages of newspapers freely available to the public via Chronicling America. The historical nature and content of the newspapers we’ve digitized. The partnerships we’ve had in the Caribbean with the University of Puerto Rico and the University of the Virgin Islands. The opportunity to work directly with the Library of Congress, one of the most important libraries in the world. The fact that our work not only makes all the content freely available, but also serves a preservation/archival purpose since the vast majority of these newspapers exist only on microfilm that can often become unstable or is difficult to access.  

As we approach another annual meeting in D.C. with the other grant recipients, the folks from LC, and representatives from NEH, it occurs to me that I look forward to the meeting with a level of anticipation that I don’t have for any other professional conferences or meetings I attend. It provides an opportunity to interact with a group of like-minded colleagues and friends who are all strongly focused on the same goals-digitizing historic newspapers to expand the corpus of Chronicling America and providing access to the important historical content the papers contain for researchers, students, genealogists, historians or just anyone with an interest in history.  

Here’s looking forward to another two years of NDNP! 

Melissa Jerome: Co-Principal Investigator; Project Coordinator 2013-2022 
Digital Initiatives Librarian, Latin American and Caribbean Collection 
George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida 

This project has been a big part of my life for the past 10 years. We truly have grown together! 

While serving as the project coordinator from its inception in 2013 through 2022, I acquired many new skills – deepened my knowledge about project management, developed newspaper expertise, and learned about digital library development. In turn, I helped the project expand and flourish. I guided it through its many phases which witnessed changes in project scope and partnerships. I established plans and strategies for developing bilingual metadata and essays to enhance access for Spanish-speakers, and I continue these efforts to make the outputs more inclusive through my contributions on the NDNP’s Title Essays Race & Ethnicity Working Group.  

I also co-developed (with Sarah Tew, the project’s new Project Coordinator) a digital humanities project called Recetas that serves as an example of the numerous possibilities for using newspapers as data and have started planning other DH projects that utilize and showcase the capabilities of newspapers as data to further explore topics in an engaging manner.

Melissa enjoys learning more about the history of Miami, her hometown. The Miami Times November 17, 1956.

The past 10 years have been filled with many memories, but two things stick out most for me about the project- what I have learned and the impact on the community. Firstly, I learned (and continue to learn) so much history from the newspapers we’ve digitized. To name a few: effects of segregation in Miami (my hometown), issues of statehood for Puerto Rico that date back over 100 years, and the development and climate issues related to the Everglades that remain relevant today. I have truly enjoyed exploring the newspapers, knowing that just about every time I look, I will encounter something I didn’t know before. 

Everglades stamp from 1947. The Key West Citizen November 7, 1947.

The other thing I have really enjoyed is the outreach component. Connecting students with primary sources that are often hard to come by and getting them to engage with and learn from history to inform their present and future. But also seeing how people in general benefit so much from the open access digitization of this content. I absolutely love hearing stories of how people have been able to trace their ancestors and learn something new about their lineage. Newspapers really do provide a lens into society. I may be biased, but I think everyone should be reading them! 

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