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A Cape Cod online newspaper archive goes dark—for now

Lucy Loomis
Sturgis Library
Microfilm is still considered "the only true preservation tool."

Tomorrow, it's back to microfilm for Sturgis Library. The pause could last a year.

BARNSTABLE—The Sturgis Library’s indispensable newspaper archive, which dates back almost 200 years, will disappear from online access on Thursday.

A decision by the software company to shut down its hosting of articles from The Barnstable Patriot and The Register will require researchers to travel to the library to access its microfilm collection.

The shift could take as long as a year, with Boston Public Library stepping in to ingest 350,000 scanned images and make them searchable, said Sturgis Library director Lucy Loomis.

Transitioning to another software company was not an option, she said, as the alternate platform could not accommodate the entire Sturgis archive. Such a move would have also proven unaffordable.

Instead, Boston Public Library has contracted with Massachusetts libraries to digitize 2 million archived pages over the next two years.

Patrick Flanary This is a blow for researchers, journalists and anyone who's curious about history. When did you find out about the change?

Lucy Loomis We had originally worked with a company called Olive Software to digitize the first 100 years of The Barnstable Patriot. Then we worked with the Yarmouth and Dennis libraries to complete the digitization of The Patriot and The Register. When we completed that, all the software was sold to IgniteTech. They emailed us earlier this year and told us they were no longer going to host the archive. We'd had this archive for going on 15 years, and they just sort of decided they didn't want to be in the newspaper-archive business anymore. There are other libraries on the Cape and across the country that used this company. It's pretty shocking. And the trouble is, it's a very expensive project over time. We spent probably close to $300,000 to to get this archive up and running. To transfer it to another company was going to cost at least another $50,000, and we just don't have that kind of funding.

PF But it looks like Boston Public Library is stepping in to help.

LL Yes. It's a huge project for them, but they have gotten some grant funding. If you go into Boston Public Library in 2025, once it's up and running, you'd not only be able to search The Barnstable Patriot, but seven or eight other newspapers across the state, all in the same place.

PF The Patriot and The Register archive with Sturgis Library dates to the 1830s. This will not be a seamless transition because there will be a blackout for at least a year?

LL That's correct. It's not a complete blackout, but it's an inconvenient blackout. We still have all the microfilm, so if people want to come in and they know generally what they're looking for, they can use the microfilm.

PF Was there a time 15 years ago when you were assembling the archive and digitizing things that people said, "Hey, we can toss this microfilm into the Dumpster now?"

LL The funny thing is that microfilm is still considered the only true preservation tool. A digitized newspaper is not, because the minute you change the software or the technology changes, it becomes obsolete. With microfilm you've got the big old clunky machine that you can access. The newspaper itself can fall apart, but the microfilm is always available.

PF What happens now? A lot of papers in this region are going to be affected because one company decided to discontinue its services.

LL Boston Public Library has all the images from our newspapers back to the 1830s, and they're ready to start doing their work. So we're being as patient as we can be. Any service that you provide, you hate to go backwards. It's one thing to have VHS tapes that turn into movies on DVD, and then streaming. That's progress. But this is really going backward.

Researchers should contact library staff at 508-362-6636 or director@sturgislibrary.org for research assistance.

Patrick Flanary is a dad, journalist, and host of Morning Edition.