Celebrating the launch of the project

Eric Warren (ERVHS), Dale Stieber (Oxy), Bob Kieft (Oxy), Carmela Gomes (HPHT), Tony Castillo (HPHT), Melinda Ramos-Alatorre (Council District 1), Frank Parrello (ERVHS)

Eric Warren (ERVHS), Dale Stieber (Oxy), Bob Kieft (Oxy), Carmela Gomes (HPHT), Tony Castillo (HPHT), Melinda Ramos-Alatorre (Council District 1), Frank Parrello (ERVHS)

On March 1, the Leadership Committee held a public reception at Occidental College to celebrate the completion of the pilot phase of the NELA Newspapers Project. Despite the heavy (but much-needed) rain, we hosted a good number of guests which included representatives from the Oxy community, board members of our partners in the project, Eagle Rock Valley Historical Society and Highland Park Heritage Trust, school educators, and representatives of Neighborhood Councils and Council Districts.

In addition to providing an opportunity for guests to meet each other, the Leadership Committee prepared a short presentation, which consisted of introductory remarks from Bob Kieft, a summary of the project’s achievements by Dale Stieber, and a conclusion about the importance of continuing the project by Tony Castillo and Eric Warren.

Teaching with Historic Newspapers

On Tuesday, November 5, 2013, the NELA Leadership Group invited Occidental College faculty and administrators  to a luncheon and presentation about teaching with historic Northeast Los Angeles Community Newspapers. The primary goals of the meeting were to:
1. Introduce Oxy faculty to the NELA Newspapers Collection and Project.
2. Get feedback from faculty on the collection and tools of access.
3. Learn about how faculty currently, or would like to, use historic newspapers in their curriculum.

The attendees –including faculty in History, American Studies, Political Science, and English Writing; research specialists in our Instruction + Research group, Oxy’s Communications Director, and the College student newspaper advisor — joined  Leadership Group members Bob Kieft of Occidental College Library, Carmela Gomes of Highland Park Heritage Trust and Eric Warren of the Eagle Rock Valley Historical Society

After a brief introduction to the NELA Newspapers Collection by Special Collections Librarian/College Archivist Dale Ann Stieber, Project Manager Kate Dundon presented the NELA Newspapers Pilot Project, and open the floor to a discussion on how historic newspapers are used in faculty research and teaching.

I’ll follow up with key points of the discussion that included thoughts on campus / community involvement in gathering newspapers; barriers to overcome for researchers in using local newspapers; and faculty ideas on designing research projects and curricula using NELA newspapers.

Condition survey: Microfilm

One of the biggest (and most educational) tasks of this project was our comprehensive condition survey of our newspaper collection. Our student workers Aneesah and Kim worked diligently to identify physical problems with the materials that might effect how items are prioritized when making digitization choices.

This post showcases some of the results for the microfilm in the collection, which gets the most use, and will probably be the format most content is digitized from (as opposed to original newsprint, which is more costly). Some of the results confirmed my ideas of the collection:

Screen Shot 2013-09-30 at 4.28.50 PMThese results show that most of our microfilm consists of positive exposure acetate film with 2 images per frame, which I have learned is pretty standard for access microfilm. Unfortunately for us, this scenario is not ideal for digitization. NDNP best practices stipulate that master negative microfilm results in the best possible image when scanning. Furthermore, acetate film is generally of poor quality, and was eventually replaced by polyester, which became the standard film material in the 1980s.  (Read more about acetate here).

Acetate film degrades over time, and becomes subject to “vinegar syndrome,” which is characterized by a vinegar odor. As the acetate backing of the film separates and degrades, it releases an acid that produces a vinegar-like smell, which in turn accelerates the process of degradation. Read more about vinegar syndrome here.

Screen Shot 2013-09-30 at 4.51.21 PMA couple of notes about these condition results:

The other category includes anecdotal observations that were not options on the survey form, such as “dark edges and/or corners,” or “torn pages.” I believe this is useful information, even though it isn’t quantifiable in Google’s form reporting function.

It isn’t necessarily true that 25% of the microfilm has scratches on the film itself, although I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that some of this film is scratched. It is available for use after all. I suspect that there appear to be scratches in the image projected by the microfilm reader, which could have been produced by many factors, including the physical state of the newsprint when the microfilm was originally made.

For instance, this scan of microfilm shows what could be scratches on the film, or irregularities on the original newsprint, or, as identified with the circle, a piece of lint found on the glass of the microfilm reader!

Highland Park News-Herald & Journal, January 4, 1962

Highland Park News-Herald & Journal, January 4, 1962

While our microfilm is not up to the highest digitization standards, we know that it isn’t held by many other institutions. (And for some tiles, Oxy is likely the only place maintaining microfilm or print). For me, this reinforces the need to digitize this material for the sake of long-term preservation and use.

Disbinding bound volumes for scanning

NELA Newspapers stored in a garage before move to storage unit, 2010

NELA Newspapers stored in a garage before move to storage unit, 2010

We knew from the beginning of this project that disbinding was going to be a necessary step in scanning our bound volumes of newspaper. Most of the volumes in our collection are bound very close to the text, leaving very shallow to no margins. We recorded information on binding quality and margin size in our condition survey, and found that even if there was space between the text and binding, the shadow created by the binding would still effect the quality of the image when scanned.

For our representative sample, we chose to have Backstage disbind a 1942 volume of the Highland Park Post-Dispatch, and a 1952-1953 volume of The Occidental (Oxy’s college newspaper) before scanning. See below for sample scans from these volumes after disbinding.

Highland Park Post-Dispatch, January 1, 1942

Highland Park Post-Dispatch, January 1, 1942

Note that some of the paper ripped from the disbinding process, which we understood was a risk. We learned that this damage is due to the binding glue that seeped into the pages of the volume, and the brittle quality of the paper. Fortunately, there was minimal text loss, and the resulting image displays more text than an image taken from this volume if it were bound.

The Occidental, September 26, 1952

The Occidental, September 26, 1952

This volume was bound with staples, as opposed to glue, and it appears that no paper damage occurred in the disbinding process. However, the pages in this volume had been trimmed to fit the binding when it was produced in the 1950s, which will result in a small amount of text loss in our final images, mostly around the tops of the pages.

Stay tuned for sample scans of the microfilm in our collection!

Meet Carmela Gomes: Board member, Highland Park Heritage Trust

carmelaCarmela Gomes is a Highland Park-based Instructional Designer, Educational Consultant, and retired teacher. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Highland Park Heritage Trust, and Secretary of the Board of Directors of the Lummis Day Community Foundation, Inc.

An active community volunteer, she serves as an instructor of the annual educational workshop A River Runs Through It: Charles Lummis and the Culture of the Arroyo Seco. Carmela is a life long learner, musician, and artist with Yarn Bombing Los Angeles.

Carmela has been instrumental in the development of a fundraising approach to continue the long-term digitization and preservation of Northeast LA newspapers. Her deep commitment to the community, and her ability to make fruitful connections between interested parties make her a valuable asset to the continuing NELA Newspapers Project.

Meet Eric Warren: President of the Eagle Rock Valley Historical Society

ERIC PICEric Warren is a native of Eagle Rock, California. He was in large part responsible for the initial preservation of the bulk of the NELA Newspaper collection, and is an indispensable member of the NELA Newspapers Pilot Project Leadership Committee.

His varied career came about through several experiences at Eagle Rock High School. He discovered through the theatre that it is possible to be in many places at one time. In Mr. Born’s photography class, he found that pictures are a window into the world for the photographer and his audience.

After brief detours into engineering and economics, it became clear that graduating from Occidental College would be contingent on receiving credit for the time he was spending backstage in the Drama Department. He graduated with that major and went on to Stanford University where he received his MFA in theatre design.

A brief foray into teaching and a longer one into electrical equipment design for the family business convinced him that his love of the theatre should center his career. For several years he freelanced, designing many productions and working as a scenic artist. His theatrical endeavors were crowned by 30 years of design for productions at Caltech.

The desire to earn a living led him to the movie business where, beginning with student productions he designed many low budget films and produced one in the heyday of low budget video. Union membership led to work as a Set Designer and Art Director in film, theme parks and television, most prominently an eleven-year gig on “ER” at Warner Brothers.

Eric continues to live in Eagle Rock and remains involved with community affairs and development and design issues. He is currently the president of the Kiwanis Club of Eagle Rock and a long time board member of the Eagle Rock High School Alumni Association.

Discovery of the remarkable archives of the Eagle Rock Valley Historical Society in neglected condition led to the restoration of the collection, his presidency of the Society, and authorship of Arcadia Publishing’s pictorial history “Eagle Rock”. The success of this volume prompted the writing of a sequel, “Eagle Rock: 1911-2011”.

Last year for Oxy’s 125th anniversary he designed “The Road to Eagle Rock” a pictorial exhibit on the college’s four locations in Los Angeles. He is delighted that many years of effort have led to the current grant to research the digitization of our wonderful collection of local newspapers.