“Digitizing The Day’s back issues is a dream I haven’t given up on.”
-John Ruddy, Copy Desk Chief at The Day
Connecticut College appears on page four of the 450-page history of our local newspaper, The Day Paper: The Story of One of America’s Last Independent Newspapers. This is because in 1911 the newspaper’s early and prominent publisher, Theodore Bodenwein, championed the cause of establishing Connecticut College for Women in New London at a time when other Connecticut towns were vying for the opportunity to host the new college.
Unfortunately for anyone who wants to fact-check the newspaper’s coverage at the time (i.e. October 19, 1911), or any other historical issue, your best bet is to make a trip down to the Public Library of New London (PLNL), where they maintain a complete run of The Day back to 1881 on microfilm. The PLNL website even claims they are “the only repository in the world with a complete record of the paper.” While that seems mostly true, it is also the case that the Waterford Public Library, the Groton Public Library, the Connecticut State Library, and The Day itself combined have pieces of what amounts to a second or third microfilm copy of the newspaper’s back issues. Not to mention the film negatives allegedly stored at ProQuest that are used in the creation of the microfilm in the first place. All of these copies combined, however, still amount to a rather precarious legacy for our local paper.
The date of October 19, 1911, cited in The Day Paper makes for an interesting example, because it is not covered by the pieces of The Day that were digitized by Google when the company aspired to scan everything in every library; a project that was abandoned in haste without explanation some years ago. At least that’s how The Day‘s Copy Desk Chief John Ruddy recalls the relationship when he described it to me in recent communications. Ruddy estimates that Google scanned about a third of the paper, “but the gaps are random and unpredictable.”
It was only when I asked Ruddy how anyone can make an authoritative claim about what is, or is not, printed in The Day without systematic access to all of its contents, that he explained how he uses the microfilm in conjunction with several incomplete indexes in existence:
- a card file maintained from 1929 to 1977 by librarians at The Day
- a system of story clippings from 1977 to around 2000 also at The Day
- incomplete print indexes available in local public libraries covering the years 1881-1890, with a partial index to one or two decades later in the 1900s
Budding researchers may be surprised to learn The Day is not free and it is not all online. It has been cut up with scissors over the years into little pieces of paper folded into envelopes and documented by hand on index cards that are organized in the drawers of some filing cabinets in an office almost no one still uses, while other components were bound between book covers, photographed, microfilmed, and/or digitized in haste and incompletely, some of it available on the internet for you to puzzle over. The rest of it is buried until someone comes along to sort it all out, assuming the various scattered pieces will last that long. Besides, who would do such a thing? How long would it take? How much would it cost? How come no one does it?
We have to ask these questions as a starting place in the hope that someday something will happen. Hopefully someone will find a grant or a benefactor and connect with the right people to help advance a project like realizing the complete digitization of The Day.
As part of the National Digital Newspaper Program, the Connecticut Digital Newspaper Project has been working in this direction, to be sure, but each NEH grant received only provides for the digitization of a small portion of one or several papers in a state that has seen the publication of some 1,600 newspapers since the 1700s. One outstanding example is the Hartford Courant which has been well-digitized from 1764-1991, albeit by ProQuest rather than the public, and is available through a database via the CT State Library.
For my part, I have talked with stakeholders at area public libraries and now The Day itself about possibly getting a group together to return to the massive project of indexing the entire paper. At least then we would have a means of making efficient use of the microfilm available at PLNL. Ruddy at The Day told me that if I do resume work on the index, then I should focus on the period from 1890 to 1929, which given the tools available is the hardest portion of the paper to search, in his view.
As for access today, in addition to the abovementioned, here’s what we have:
- print copies of the newspaper are kept in Shain Library for four weeks
- page-view electronic copies are available for 90 days via the library database Press Reader
- if you’re looking for content and need a hand, schedule a research consultation with a librarian