Preserving the past for future generations

Library works with Montana Historical Society to digitize county newspapers
Thursday, March 12, 2020
Preserving the past for future generations

In December 2020, Judith Basin County will celebrate its centennial. Before 1920, this region was divided between Fergus and Meagher counties. Similarly, the Judith Basin County Library recently celebrated its second anniversary. Their next major project is making available online all of the Judith Basin Press editions, over Ina years worth.

“I cannot think of a better way to honor Judith Basin County’s moth to open its to Library Director Jeanne Lillegard. “The scope not only includes our newspapers, but the annuals of our schools as well.”

Newspapers can be thought of as a time portal, said Natasha Hollenbach, digital projects librarian with the Montana Historical Society, who is working on the digitization. In her estimation, newspapers provide the first wrap of history and a look back to what the editor thought was most important at the time.

“I find it reassuring that in anything we are angsting about now, they were angsting about then,” said Hollenback, noting that so many past editorials could have been written today.

Down payment raised

For this project of digitizing the archives, the State Historical Society requested a down payment of $5,000 to begin. The prof Pct will not only make the papers available online, it will make them searchable. Microfilm is currently the primary means to preserve the papers, but by making them digital, they can be accessed from anywhere in the world. The microfilms are only available in Helena.

To make the digitization a reality, The Judith Basin County Free Library applied to the Judith Basin Endowment fund and received a grant of $1,5oo. Next an anonymous couple, recognizing the importance of periodicals as a historical record, gave $5,000.

“We launched this project prepared to progress by baby steps, but the generosity of the Judith Basin Endowment Fund and our private donor has allowed us to leap forward,” said Lillegard.

The library has now raised enough funds to begin preserving the very oldest papers in Judith Basin, many of which were being written before Judith Basin was a county.

Uses in Research and Geanealogy

In addition to preserving the brittle yellow paper, this project allows families to read about their history in Judith Basin. Many looking into the archives are seeing information on their family history.

“A lot of the uses we see are for genealogy,” said Hollenbach with the Montana Historical Society. “There’s a lot of student usage. Newspapers are great for teachers because they are primary sources, which is always useful in the K – 12 curriculum.”

The Montana Historical Society received a federal grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, which provided a high level of expertise for the project as it moved past the funding period.

“We’re about to hit a million pages, and that’s still only about 6% of all of the newspapers published in Montana to date,” said Hollenbach

The reels of the Judith Basin newspapers have already been sent over to a company in Maryland, Crowley, which will digitize them. They will come back mid-March and be available online shortly thereafter (watch for future coverage).

The funds raised will allow the newspapers to be digitized up until 1938. The remaining papers will be digitized as future funds allow.

County newspapers included

What is now the Judith Basin Press, began as the Stanford World in 1909 and became the Judith Basin Press in 1920. It also merged with the Judith Basin Star, which was based in Hobson.

Other county newspapers included in the project are the following: The Windham Leader (1923-1925), Belt Mountain Miner (Barker, 1891-1894), Stanford World (Stanford, 1909-1918 and 1920), Benchland Advocate (Benchland, four issues in 1912), Benchland Weekly Advocate (Benchland, one issue in 1911), Geyser Judith Basin Times (Geyser, 19u-1916), Judith Basin Star (Hobson, 1912-1918 and 1920-1956), Independent (Moccasin, 1923-1924), Judith Basin County Press (Stanford, 1920-1956), Judith Basin County Press and Judith Basin Star (Stanford (1957), Judith Basin Press (Stanford, 1957-1977; 1979-present), Press-Times (Stanford, 1977-1978), and Stanford Central Montana Press (2003-2004).