Backstage Pass to North Dakota History

This blog takes you behind the scenes of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Get a glimpse at a day-in-the-life of the staff, volunteers, and partners who make it all possible. Discover what it takes to preserve North Dakota's natural and cultural history. We encourage dialogue, questions, and comments!

Shane Molander's blog

Digitizing Newspapers In-House

My October 2018 blog discussed our plan to digitize newspapers beyond what we have done with Chronicling America. We began by sending microfilm to our vendor, Advantage Preservation, who digitizes and processes newspapers from the microfilm. In 2019, we were able to purchase a microfilm scanner so we could do the scanning and processing in-house.

Mekel Mach12 microfilm scanner

The Mekel MACH12 microfilm scanner

The MACH12 scanner is amazing! It scans a roll of microfilm with about 1,000 images in about six minutes. For some weekly newspapers, that is a whole year of issues.

The MACH12 in action

After scanning, we use the Quantum Process software to make any necessary adjustments to the pages, making sure the scans are clear and easily readable. This is necessary for a successful optical character recognition (OCR) process, which makes the text searchable. After adjusting the scans, we create two digital files for each page–a TIFF and a PDF. The TIFF serves as our preservation copy. This copy of the scan ends up in our digital repository for preservation. The PDF is our presentation copy. This copy is transferred to Advantage Preservation to upload to the North Dakota newspaper site for searching by the public. You can either select a title to search or simply search across all the titles by entering your keyword or a person’s name in the search box.

Screenshot of OCR program

Running optical character recognition (OCR) from home

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the social distancing orders have many of us working from home. Finding work to do from home could have been a challenge, but working on scanned newspapers from home became a reality with the help of Zoho Assist software that allows me to access the PC connected to the microfilm scanner. The Beulah newspapers (1914-2017) are my focus at the moment. Look for them to be up on the site in the next few months.

Mekel scanner and PC

Scanning with the Mekel and PC

The Sanish and New Town newspapers will be next. Both the Beulah and New Town public libraries applied for and received grants from the State Library to have this done, with the permission of the newspaper publishers. For more information on costs and funding opportunities for your community newspapers to be digitized, please contact me at

American Archives Month: Saving Moving Images

For years I’ve talked and written about the importance of saving moving images. Whether moving images are television news stories, athletic events, a family event, a picnic, parade, or simply people in their daily lives, they should be preserved for present and future generations. Moving image brings an event to life. Seeing an event is so much more powerful than just hearing or reading about it.

The State Archives has a large collection of moving images that originate from a number of sources including local newscasts, sportscasts, government agencies, filmmakers, and home movie enthusiasts. These collections show real people and provide a viewing window into people and events of the past.

Preserving moving image is a challenge as the equipment to play the media becomes more difficult to find and maintain. Through the years, transferring an older format to another, more usable format has been the standard practice. Thirty years ago, 16mm film would be transferred to a VHS or U-matic ¾” tape. As that practice became dated, a transfer to a DVD was more convenient to users and preservation. Today, using the original format if possible, we convert moving image to a digital format that can be saved on a server. A digital file is convenient because we can easily edit it and share it with patrons in a timely manner.

inside video camera with 8mm film

As a frequent user and preservationist of the State Historical Society’s moving image collection, I also promote the importance and methods of saving these keepsakes. That is why we have partnered with the Al Larvick Conservation Fund to host Home Movie Day.

Home Movie Day is a worldwide opportunity for organizers to help the local community access their old films and videotapes while sharing their memories and family lore handed down through generations. Beginning Oct. 19, 2019, the first official Home Movie Day will take place in North Dakota at the ND Heritage Center & State Museum. Additional programs will follow Oct. 20 in Valley City and Oct. 22 in Grand Forks.

The idea of bringing your analog mementos into the modern digital age can be daunting for a number of reasons. Digitization can be expensive and can also be a confusing process. Visitors who bring their family movies to a Home Movie Day are able to observe as their film reel or videotape is shown and saved for future generations. These one-afternoon digitizing events can jump-start a genealogy project and give a glimpse into the treasures that may have been hiding at the bottom of a closet for years, if not decades.

Click here for more information and to sign up for an event.

For those who would like to get some of their analog media digitized in Bismarck or Valley City, we recommend reserving a digitization spot in advance by contacting Shane Molander at 701.328.3570 or