Brownwood Public Library historians will use a $25,000 grant from the Texas State Library and the Institute for Museum and Library Services to digitize vital parts of area history and make them publically available.
As part of the grant, historians with the Brownwood Public Library Local History and Genealogy Library helped digitize more than 25 rolls of microfilm of back issues of the Brownwood Bulletin, dating back to the 1890s, and once the project completes will have those issues indexed and available online to the public through the Portal to Texas History.
“It’s a time consuming process. It’s not just digitizing, it’s making this information searchable,” Library Director Becky Isbell said. “Now, anyone researching a person or event can search and find it. It will be a several-year process before we can get the entire run of the Brownwood Bulletin there, but it’s going to be valuable for anybody.”
Isbell said there are three locations where back issues of the Brownwood Bulletin can be found. The Brownwood Bulletin building, located across from the public library, the history and genealogy library across from the Brown County Courthouse in downtown Brownwood and public domain back issues before 1922 at the Howard Payne University library.
“For the most part, they are nearly complete, but there are some missing pieces that are only in one location,” Isbell said. “If there were a fire or something, that history would be lost forever so for this grant especially we focused on pieces of Brownwood history where we only had one copy of it. It goes back to the late 1800s and it is being digitized and being put on the Portal to Texas History, which is a product of the University of North Texas.”
Isbell said the expensive part of the project is digitizing the microfilm, which is priced at $1,000 per roll. She added, throughout the entire process, she worked with UNT Digital Newspaper Director Ana Krahmer to use the Brownwood Bulletin as the model for developing a new system of digitizing other Texas newspaper collections.
“It’s very expensive to do, it’s about $1,000 a roll, but we’ve been really blessed,” Isbell said. “We’re helping them with that and they’re going to complete the entire collection of the Brownwood Bulletin. They’ve done a lot of it so it’s not like they don’t know what they’re doing. It’s something [Krahmer] felt would work out a good system for doing a lot of microfilm with one newspaper quickly.”
Clay Riley, a volunteer with the Brownwood Public Library Local History and Genealogy Library, said the library’s collection of back issues of the Brownwood Bulletin is vast but has missing issues from the 1950s and 1970s and has a list of those missing issues posted in its location across from the courthouse. Although the articles tend to give the best reflection of the culture and background of many issues of the day, Riley said much of the Bulletin’s historical value comes from its legals and obituaries.
“The obituaries, for instance, are gold mines for people doing family research,” Riley said. “They can come in and find an obituary from their grand parents, or their great grand parents, which mention where they were raised, where they were born and gives them a lot of information about that individual and helps them put together a family tree … Finding some of the early problems we experienced in Brown County, there are good articles in there and good referencing information. That is what the grant is all about.”
Clay said the reason for digitizing newspapers is overtime paper degrades and become brittle and fragile. Considering even a newspaper has a lifespan, collecting old issues to preserve them for a future generation is vital to the organization’s mission.
“It’s particularly important to newspapers because it was not the best quality paper in the world,” Clay said. “The high acid content just fries over time. We have an 1865 newspaper from the Civil War that is in great shape, but it has a lot of cotton fiber in it so it wasn’t all wood products. It was low acid so it didn’t cook itself. It all depends on what period of time and what (type) of newspaper.”