Newspaper Conversion


In 1967, with the help of a grant from the Kresge Foundation, the Clarke Historical Library began microfilming newspapers from Michigan communities. Then, as now, local newspapers form the single most important record from which a community can be documented. No resource is more important for a local historian than the town newspaper. Thus, for more than fifty years the Clarke Library has worked with Michigan communities to preserve local newspapers on microfilm. To date, more than 11,000,000 newspaper pages have been preserved as a result of this work.​

Why choose us?

Although several vendors can microfilm your material, the Clarke Library offers three distinct advantages:

  • Microfilming newspapers is part of the Clarke Library’s core responsibility to preserve Michigan state and local history. We are dedicated to maintaining high standards so that future generations will benefit from our work and to obtaining the lowest possible cost to ensure the preservation of as much of our state’s heritage as possible. Preserving history is our mission, not just our job.​
  • The Clarke Library maintains, without charge to the customer, the original negative in offsite climate-controlled storage and the print master in our climate-controlled stacks, thus maximizing the life of the negative film and creating protection against a disaster. This is not a service usually provided for free by vendors, but we do it because of our mission to preserve local history. We want to ensure that your community history survives into the future. Should your user copy be damaged or destroyed, the negative will be easily found and available to make new user copies.
  • The Clarke Library maintains a user copy of your film in our library. Thus your microfilm project not only benefits you but it also adds to the historical records available to the public statewide.

Paper to microfilm

The Clarke Historical Library’s microforms staff provides a complete service that creates archival quality finished microfilm from the paper newspaper (or other source material) you provide. A typical project begins when the newspaper arrives at the library. While at the library, the newspaper is carefully cared for in our secure, temperature and humidity-controlled stacks. Before filming, the newspaper is disbound (if it was received bound, please see the note below on why we do this) and checked to be sure all the issues and pages are in correct order. Once collation is complete, the newspaper is filmed on a state-of-the-art Zeutschel microfilm camera. Using this machine, a 35 mm master negative reel is created. After inspection to ensure that the film includes all the requested images and that all technical and preservation standards have been met, a “print negative” and user copies of the film are created. When duplication is completed, a user copy of the film is returned to the project’s sponsor or to a location the project sponsor specifies (often a local public library). The original newspapers are either returned to the location from where they came or disposed of by the Clarke Library in a manner agreed to in advance by the newspaper’s owner and the Clarke Library.

All film created by the Clarke Library meets or exceeds all relevant American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards for preservation microfilming.

Microfilm to digital

The library staff can create digital images directly from microfilm.  This for-fee service can be tailored to the needs of individuals and institutions.  Services range from serving as a third-party vendor that can scan, create necessary metadata, and make available fully searchable images in a database we maintain on the Internet much smaller projects involving the conversion of microfilm into a searchable digital image with limited metadata and made available via a portable hard drive or a similar device.

Please contact us for current fees.

Continuing program

Although the Clarke Library is pleased to work with any organization on a microfilming project, one of the most fruitful approaches is the “Continuing Program.” Using this program, we microfilm a backfile of a particular newspaper and also receive a complimentary subscription to the paper and retain current issues. When a sufficient number of issues have been received to complete a microfilm reel, we automatically film the material and forward a user copy of the resulting film to you.  Because the continuing program offers a more stable business model for our microfilming project, we also offer this service at a substantial discount over the price charged for “one-time” projects.​​​

Why we disbind newspapers before filming

Although bound newspapers are incredibly convenient for users, they are a significant problem for cameras. All forms of binding bend the newspaper at the point where the edges of the individual newspaper sheets have been put together, just as all bound books curve at the page meets the binding. That curvature compromises the quality of the microfilm. Various problems can occur, depending upon how “tightly” bound the newspaper is, that is, how close the innermost column of print is to the edge of the binding. At a minimum, some portion of the innermost column will likely be out of focus. At its worst, the entire inner column is not readable on the microfilm. For this reason, ANSI standards call for newspapers to be filmed disbound and flat.

Is microfilm obsolete?

As the nation moves into the digital era, some people have questioned the ongoing need for microfilm. Given the internet’s ability to distribute information widely and quickly, can the digitization of newspapers replace the microfilming of newspapers?

Digitization is a crucial tool for distributing copies of historical newspapers found in libraries and archives. The ease with which an individual can call up information on a computer screen contrasts sharply with the need for old-fashioned microfilm readers. However, because of frequent hardware and software changes, as well as the possibility of electronic file corruption, electronic versions of newspapers are usually not a wise choice for long-term preservation purposes. Microfilm created in compliance with various nationally-recognized preservation standards remains the best way to preserve newspapers for the long haul.​

Ways you can help

There are various ways you can help support the Clarke Historical Library’s Newspaper Conversion projects. These include:

  • Supporting microfilming and digitization projects with financial donations.​
  • Sharing information about the Clarke Historical Library’s Newspaper Conversion projects with others you think would be interested or who you think should know about the project.
  • ​​​Sharing information you may have about already digitized Michigan newspapers. We aim to maintain a comprehensive list of historic Michigan newspapers at the Digital Michigan Newspaper Portal​. This list is constantly growing, and finding these resources is often challenging. If you know of one, please send us a message at​.

Grant funded project

DigMichNews Grant 

Central Michigan University’s Clarke Historical Library offers an annual award to improve access to a Michigan newspaper. ​Applications  are accepted in the fall, and five finalists whose newspapers have been nominated will be encouraged to show their support by voting electronically or by mailing a Michigan picture postcard to the Clarke. The newspaper that receives the most votes will be selected and included in the Clarke Historical Library’s Digital Michigan ​Newspapers Database.

National Digital Newspaper Grant (​​2012-Current)​

In August 2012, the Clarke Historical Library received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities' National Digital Newspaper Program to digitize culturally significant Michigan newspapers.

The Michigan team is charged with selecting and digitizing historically significant Michigan titles to be aggregated and permanently maintained by the Library of Congress via the Chronicling America database. One hundred thousand pages of Michigan newsprint, published between 1690-1963, will be digitized during a​ two-year cycle of the grant.​ 

This grant has been renewed through 2018. Since receiving funding the MichDNP has digitized several titles that are now available on the Library of Congress' Chronicling America - Michigan Collection​ website.

Michigan Newspaper Project (​​2001-2007)​​

The Michigan Newspaper Project was a result of a federally sponsored program (United States Newspaper Program​) that was designed to catalog all of the newspapers published in the United States, to selectively microfilm certain papers, and then to make some of the microfilmed newspapers available digitally.  The was work is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, coordinated by the  Library of Congress, and within each state organized by a single agency.  In Michigan, the Clarke Historical Library, worked with the Library of Michigan to take on this responsibility. 

For a history of newspapers in Michigan, view materials from the Clarke Historical Library exhibit