Digitizing Newspapers

The digitization of historic newspapers is one of the most exciting developments for historians. In the past, researchers relied had to rely on the rare index or spend hours scanning microfilm to find reports of local events that might assist them in their work. The recent digitization of newspapers not only gives researchers increased access, but also allows searches by location, date, key words and even specific phrases.

Some digitized papers are available to the public for free, some require access through a library card or a historical society membership, and some provide a free preview but require payment for the full article.

This page will include information on how to effectively use digitized newspapers and what collections are available to general public for free, to NVCC students through the library, and to Northern Virginia residents with library cards.

Digitized newspapers can be searched in a number of ways but the most significant development is the use of OCR or optimal character recognition. This allows the user to search through a complete collection without the use of an index. But a digital version can only be as good as the original and with newspapers this can present a greater challenge since there may be breaks in the typeface which would ultimately limit the results of an OCR-based search.

Most collections offer options to narrow date ranges and even select the type of news item, like an ad, article or obituary. It's often necessary to search for the same thing using different words. If you're looking for an article about a murder, you may have to do separate searches for "killed," "fatal," "slain" and "murdered." Think about the time period and try to select words appropriate to the era, like "Negro" or "colored" rather than "black" or "African American." For a person's name, try full names, nicknames and abbreviations, like "Michael Bernard Harlow" could also be listed as "M.B. Harlow," "Michael B. Harlow," "Mike Harlow" or if he was known by his middle name perhaps "M. Bernard Harlow" or "Bernie Harlow" would yield better results.

Be sure to check out recent news about digitizing old news, too.

Digitized Collections

Brooklyn Daily Eagle
California Digital Newspaper Collection
Chronicling America
Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection
South Carolina Digital Newspaper Program
Utah Digital Newspapers
Santa Monica Outlook