Library considers digitization project for The Wheaton Journal
Grant would make 100 years of history available on Web
The Wheaton Journal newspaper, which covered the life and times of Barry, McDonald and Newton county citizens for a century from 1906 to 2005, and all of its history, may soon be instantly accessible on the internet if the Barry-Lawrence County Regional Library System applies for and receives newspaper digital imaging grant available through the U.S. Library Services and Technology Act (LTSA) of 1996.
The library is considering the grant, which would make 100 years of history not recorded in any other local publication, available on the Missouri State Library's website. The grant would also completely fund the digitization project, and provide a 10-percent kickback for minimal administrative costs -- a huge perk to the library, given its budget crisis after a failed tax levy this year.
Furthermore, Patsy Luebbert, grant manager of the Missouri Digital Newspaper Project and 35-year archivist with the Missouri State Library would also write the bulk of the grant, leaving little for the library to do other than apply.
"We're always open to adding things to the collection," said Gina Milburn, library system director. "I think digitizing newspapers is a great idea because it provides access to information for our customers. The kickback would definitely help, and at least recoup our cost on what we have to do on our end."
At a library board meeting Oct. 25, Mark Ingram, a retired information technology consultant who said he stumbled onto the project, presented the perks and details to seven board members. After attempting to find and research an event that occurred in Rocky Comfort, Ingram got involved, connecting with Ralph and Betty Lamberson of the Wheaton Historical Society, who directed him to The Wheaton Journal. He also came across a book by a Wheaton native that piqued his interest.
"I read the book, Listening to the Jar Flies, Growing up in Wheaton and Rocky Comfort, by Jimmy R. Lewis -- that's what really got me interested," he said.
Ingram said there's no guarantee the grant will be approved, but by LTSA standards, there's a strong possibility, because the newspaper was a weekly publication, contained unique information, and was, at most, eight pages or less.
According to Betty Lamberson, treasurer of the Wheaton Historical Society, the publication was digitized and put on DVDs more than 10 years ago with donations collected by Wheaton alumni, but is not searchable on the web. To research a person or event, people must borrow or purchase the DVDs from the Wheaton Depot Museum, or look through what perishable paper copies are available, so conducting research can be like finding a needle in a haystack.
"The Wheaton Journal has information that is unique history for Barry County, but if you don't know for sure when something was -- you're talking about a lot of searching, so I think it's a worthy project," Ingram said.
With funding a non-issue, the biggest hurdle is obtaining copyright releases from past owners of the publication, a requirement of the grant. But, Ingram said he has already obtained, on his own time, the lion's share of that task.
"From 1922 and before is considered public domain, but as far as the digitizing process, anything after that you've got to have a copyright release," he said. "They don't give away the copyright. They give permission for it to be used for this purpose. The keepers of the records are aging, and we need to mine this data while we can."
"Mr. Ingram has done the really hard work, which is getting the permission and researching this," Milburn said.
He has also obtained letters of support, another requirement of the grant, from Jo Ann Fox Hughes, the only child of the late James Wallace "Wally" Fox, the owner, editor and publisher of the newspaper from November 1924 through February 1967.
"The surviving printed paper archives of this no-longer published newspaper contain excellent material, much of it available from no other source," Hughes said in a May 26 letter. "Moreover, since Wheaton and nearby Rocky Comfort lie in the far reaches of their respective counties, it was The Wheaton Journal alone that published myriad stories and information ignored by the larger newspapers of record -- including the Cassville Democrat, Barry County Advertiser and The Monett Times for Barry County and the McDonald County Press (and its predecessors) for McDonald County.
Lamberson confirmed the publication covered more than just Wheaton.
"Mr. Fox. was a former McDonald countian, so he was interested in the people there and wanted to sell as many papers as he could, and I think he bought out a few papers to do that," she said.
Hughes also said that the current paper archives provide limited access and are searchable only via "time-consuming manual examination."
"By contrast having digital editions made publicly available, via Web access and keyword search, would be invaluable to academics and lay persons alike," she said.
Lastly, Hughes expressed the concern that, without the grant, the resource could eventually be lost for all time, urging the library system to "protect, preserve and publish for online access an irreplaceable historical legacy."
Ingram also secured a letter from Kay Lombard, associate editor of the newspaper from 1971 to 1993.
"This would provide resources that are not available elsewhere," she states in her letter.
Lamberson said the grant would be good for everyone, and might also help the library obtain a tax increase by gaining the favor, and votes, of Wheaton residents, who pay a library tax, but have no local library.
"We don't get any outreach from the Barry County Library," Lamberson said. "I think they might make a few more people here happy to vote."
The library board will make a decision about the grant at its next board meeting on Nov. 17.