Friday, August 10, 2018

Newspaper Clipping Files: A Local History Resource that Never Goes Out of Style

by Mary Beth Newbill, Southern History Department, Central Library


Long before databases, digitization, and optical character recognition software made researching newspapers (somewhat) straightforward, the librarians at BPL were quietly clipping and organizing thousands upon thousands of newspaper articles. The result is a collection of local history and biography that is totally unique to the Birmingham Public Library. It represents decades of work and dedication and remains an essential tool for students, genealogists, and historians.

The clipping files are made up of almost 10,000 individual file folders arranged by subject. Although, the subject headings can cause some head scratching even among those of us who have worked with them for years. Looking for the file on Loveman’s Department Store? Well, it’s not filed under Loveman’s or Department Stores or Businesses. It’s actually filed under Merchants – Birmingham – Loveman’s. Since there is no digital access to the Birmingham News prior to 1993, finding articles on a particular topic is challenging. Having the clipping files makes locating articles on subjects such as schools, churches, and neighborhoods much easier.

The earliest clippings date from the 1920s and the files were added to continuously until the mid-1980s. Once indexes to the Birmingham News and the Birmingham Post-Herald were available (first on microfiche and later digitally), the files were no longer updated. However, the collection that remains is absolutely invaluable. Housed in the library’s Southern History Department, the collection takes up a large amount of space. Since it is located in the closed stacks, most patrons never see its true scale and scope.

In recent years, library staff has worked just as diligently to scan, crop, and describe individual clippings as those librarians who, decades ago, created the original files. Thanks to the hard work of another generation of librarians, many of the clippings are now available in our digital collection. No matter the format, preserving and maintaining access to this unique collection will always be important to us.

For more information about the newspaper clipping files, contact the Southern History Department at 205-226-3665 or visit our Digital Library at http://www.bplonline.org/resources/Digital.aspx.

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