A glitch in archive retrieval

Published 7:44 pm Tuesday, January 19, 2016

    We have encountered a dilemma with respect to old copies of The Smithfield Times. There is currently no way to copy material from them. It’s a problem that, for right now, seems to have no solution.

    There are several microfilm files at the Smithfield Branch of the Blackwater Regional Library, probably the most popular being old copies of The Smithfield Times. The papers on file there date back to 1928. The hard copies were discovered in a Main Street building in the late 1970s and were microfilmed by the Virginia State Library.

    A copy of the microfilm files of those old papers was donated by The Smithfield Times to the library and, from then until now, we have continued having each year’s papers microfilmed and placed in the library files.

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    An old microfilm reader allowed viewing but not copying of the papers until 2000, when a new reader/copier was purchased with library funds and donations, including one from the newspaper. It was a marvelous machine by the standards of that day. It allowed for rapid scanning of the old issues and for copies to then be made of desired pages.

    Until last year. That’s when the combination system failed. New software and old hardware proved to be incompatible and today, we are back to a point where the files can be read but not copied.

    We are frequently asked whether our newspaper is digitally preserved and thus retrievable on the web. Unfortunately, it isn’t. Like many small papers around the country, the cost of digitizing old papers is currently too great to undertake the conversion.

    The Blackwater Regional Library staff wants to digitize the files it has, especially genealogical papers on file there, and at some point that could include the newspaper. But any of that work could be years away and.

    A new reader/printer, meanwhile, would cost in excess of $13,000, we are told, and the library simply doesn’t have that kind of money. Neither does the paper.

    So, for now, old copies of The Smithfield Times can be read but not copied, except the old fashioned way — word-for-word into a computer or notebook.

    I’m not writing this as a complaint in any way about the library. Technology is great, but it can be extraordinarily expensive. The digitization of files is one such expense.

    In the meantime, we are still microfilming the newspaper at the end of each year and donating a copy to the library. Microfilm is old fashioned, but it’s a secure, almost foolproof, way of preserving old records. Until there’s a safe and economical alternative, we’ll keep preserving the papers in that manner.