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The Observer News selected for historic university collection

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By MELODY JAMESON

What was life like in South Hillsborough 70 years ago?

newspapersShould that question be posed later in this century, as certainly it could be, there won’t be much uncertainty.

Descriptions of events, profiles of people, accounts of tragedies, the values of its communities, the strengths and tears threaded through South Hillsborough’s fabric of life early in the 2lst century and straight from the pages of its leading community newspaper will be at descendants’ fingertips.

In the decades ahead, anyone, anywhere – from down the street to across the country to the other side of the planet – will be able to learn that on the eastern shore of Tampa Bay new cars were being sold in the century’s first decade for around $15,000, that field-fresh strawberries on shortcake were sold right at Goodson’s farm, that dentists were still crowning teeth for about $600 per, that citrus continued to be shipped north as it had been in the previous century from Dooley Groves, that bingo remained big at local churches, that ultrasound was a touted treatment for varicose veins, and that....on and on and on.

These snapshots of life and in-depth looks at the communities of South Hillsborough as they strode through the century from the pages of The Observer News now are being preserved “in perpetuity” through digital archiving at Smathers Library on the University of Florida campus at Gainesville.

The Observer News, the only community publication in Hillsborough County selected for the UF Digital Library Center’s (DLC) preservation project, was chosen because of its “news values providing local and regional content” for its readers, according to Randall Renner, DLC operations manager. The choice was based on recommendation from the library’s journalism section, he added.

The DLC project is aimed at capturing in a permanently preserved format for future readers and researchers the community publications from around the state that demonstrate in words and pictures the textures, pace and priorities of their communities, said Laurie Taylor, DLC interim director.

It’s only logical, she added, that the University of Florida as the state’s land grant college and Smathers Library, upholding the principle that libraries are the foundation of democracy, would undertake such an archiving project in order to preserve for the future these glimpses of community life across the state in the early 21st century.

The Observer News is one of 70 community-focused publications in Florida currently being digitally archived – approximately one from each of the state’s 67 counties, Renner noted. Preservation of the publication began in October, 2010, and it is done on a weekly basis by “harvesting” a full copy from the newspaper’s website, he said. Other publications are added to the archives by other means, including use of “reusable hard drives” transported back and forth between the publications’ offices and the library, and by DVDs supplied to the library by the publications.

Each UF archived copy of the The Observer News, like the copy uploaded to its website each week, is a flip-page version in which each page can be displayed on the computer screen by clicking on the lower right corner of the page. And, just as on the website, the publication page is enlarged by clicking on it. The newspaper’s website address is www.observernews.net.

Before advent of digital technology, Taylor said the library endeavored to save Florida newspapers on microfiche film and currently has about 30,000 reels containing copies of Florida news publications, one going back to 1780, some 60 years before statehood was declared. While newsprint disintegrates quickly making microfiche more desirable, it, too, presents disadvantages including that it requires space for storage, she noted. The library began the digitizing project requiring the less space- intensive computer memory in 2005.

While newspaper archives always are useful to historians and writers, the preserved publications also serve a wide range other disciplines, Taylor said, from anthropologists and biologists to sociologists and zoologists. It is not inconceivable that some among them could be studying the South County communities before turn of the next century.

Wes Mullins, corporate CEO of M&M Printing, Inc. which publishes The Observer News and its sister publications, The SCC Observer and The Riverview Current, termed the addition of The Observer News to UF’s historic collection of Florida newspapers “a high compliment. We’re delighted that our news and feature coverage across the South County as well as our advertisers will be giving those in the future a window on our world.”

If this type of preservation had been possible a century ago, added Brenda Knowles, the newspapers’ editor and publisher, “we would have a more complete picture of life here when these communities initially were settled a hundred years ago. We can only be pleased now that in some small way we will assist future residents in getting that more complete picture of today.”

The university library web address to access the digitized publications is ufdc.ufl.edu/newspapers.

Copyright 2011 Melody Jameson
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