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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

Archiving the North Dakota Legislative Assembly

The North Dakota Legislative Assembly meets every odd year to determine the state’s budget and whether new laws or changes to current laws need to be made. State agency leaders testify in front of appropriation committees to explain why their proposed budget is necessary to fulfill their commitment to the people of the state. People from all walks of life contact their senators and representatives to express their beliefs about what is right and what is wrong for North Dakota. Whether it’s business owners wanting to be open Sunday mornings, the energy industry seeking tax breaks, or the livestock industry seeking more stringent restrictions on cattle imports, a plethora of issues comes before the legislature each session.

As the repository for state government records of historical value, the North Dakota State Archives collects much of the work accomplished during (and in between) these legislative sessions. We have archived all the bills and resolutions introduced in the House and Senate since statehood in 1889. Probably one of the more interesting and most requested sets of records we archive is the written and recorded testimony from standing committee hearings. These audio tapes run from 1977 to 2005. The majority is on mini-cassette tapes, organized chronologically and by committee and bill number (digital recording of these hearings began in 2007). Because many bills resurface in subsequent sessions, interested parties will often look back and listen to what opponents and proponents said about the bill as they prepare for an upcoming hearing.

The State Archives also preserves videos of television news. Our collection includes substantial television coverage of legislative issues in North Dakota from the 1970s through the 1990s. For example, the blue laws, or Sunday restrictions on sales, have garnered much attention for decades. This session features a bill that would repeal the last of the blue laws, allowing all stores to open before noon on Sundays. Below are a few clips I picked out from our Meyer Television (KFYR-TV) news collection about blue law legislation, as well as the wrap-up report from the final day of the 1989 session. Enjoy!

Digitizing Newspapers beyond Chronicling America

About a year ago, blogger Sarah Walker wrote a piece on how wonderful the web portal Chronicling America is for searching newspapers. And it certainly is wonderful! By next summer there will be more than 400,000 pages of North Dakota newspapers from about 50 titles of various lengths available online. This is significant! However, Chronicling America includes only select newspapers prior to 1964. With millions of pages of newspapers on microfilm here in the State Archives and uncertainty about the availability of continuous grant funding to digitize them, it is time to put together a sustained newspaper digitization plan that provides easy searchability and is free to all users.

Newspaper article announcing the marriage of Donna Brandvold and Gary Molander

Digitized newspapers make for easy genealogy.

Many states participating in the National Digital Newspaper Project, or Chronicling America, have had additional newspapers beyond this project digitized. One vendor that caught our interest while researching our own such project is Advantage Preservation in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. They contracted with the Divide County Public Library to digitize the area newspapers from microfilm created by the North Dakota State Archives. Being a Divide County native, it certainly captured my interest as I was able to search for relatives — and even myself!

The Divide County newspaper site is simple and easy to search. It is not as accurate or powerful as Chronicling America, but the papers can be digitized at a fraction of the cost, making it easier for us to accommodate the real demand for word-searchable, digital newspapers.

With the blessing of the North Dakota Newspaper Association, we are partnering with local groups and newspaper publishers interested in having their newspaper online and searchable. With the financial support of the Traill County Historical Society, we recently sent some of our master negative microfilm of the Hillsboro Banner to Advantage for digitization. When completed, it will be on a website like the Divide County newspapers. There are several other communities across North Dakota interested in doing the same. Eventually we will have all the digitized newspapers accessible through our State Archives website, with the capability of doing one search across all of them. To get an idea of what it may look like, you can view the Iowa digital newspapers.

If you or your organization is interested in having your local newspapers digitized, I would happy to discuss the possibilities and cost in more detail. I can be reached by email at smolander@nd.gov or phone at 701.328.3570.

Newspaper article titled Maroons avenge Plentywood loss; lose to tough New Town

Number 45 with his back to the camera is Todd Wash, current defensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars of the National Football League. How cool is that!