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North Dakota: Legendary. Follow the trail of legends

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!

History Odysseys: Connecting with Places Where Interesting Things Happened

We all have moments in our lives that, when we look back, seem to define something important about us. One of mine took place on a hot summer day when I was in grade school. I was standing in the basement of the Alfred Dickey Library in Jamestown, ND. I remember my mom arguing with the librarian over how many books I could take home. It was the beginning of summer vacation, and we had placed two big stacks of Nancy Drew books on the checkout counter. Despite my mother’s assurances, the librarian was not convinced I could read all of those books in just two weeks. The librarian finally caved when she realized we lived on a farm. The library had a policy to extend book loans to a month for farm families. I was tickled to take my bag full of books out to the car, and before we got home, I was deep into The Secret of the Old Clock. A week later my mom was pretty tickled to return to the library to exchange my pile of books for a new stack.

Aisle full of books in a library

My favorite place to be--a library. Credit: Glen Noble on Unsplash.

Having learned this story about me, it probably won’t surprise you at all that I eagerly said yes when I was asked to help this same library with a new exhibit about Louis L’Amour. L’Amour, who spent his formative years in Jamestown, wrote about how influential the Alfred Dicky Library was to him as a kid. He credited the library with helping to shape his unconventional education. It was an education that led a high school dropout to become a bestselling author. Freshly renovated, the library is putting together a small exhibit about L’Amour’s years in Jamestown. More than two decades after his death, he is still a popular author. People often come through town looking for more of his personal story.

Exterior view of the Alfred Dickey Library

The Alfred Dickey Library in Jamestown, ND. Credit: Warren Abrahamson (NewsDakota.com).

Recently I had the opportunity to visit the library again and see the space where the planned exhibit will be installed. Walking up the flight of stairs into the library, seeing that beautiful stained glass, and smelling the library smell of my childhood brought a lot of memories flooding back for me. It’s moments like these that I remember how important the actual physical, tangible space of a place can be. You can read about a place in a book, but nothing can replace that experience of making a pilgrimage to that particular place. Smelling the smells. Hearing the sounds. Experiencing firsthand the scale of the space. This is an amazing experience that helps you better understand what really happen in a particular spot, at a particular time.

Contractors working in the Louis L'Amour Reading Room

Contractors finish work in the Louis L’Amour Reading Room at the Alfred Dickey Library in Jamestown, ND. Credit: Friends of the James River Valley Library System

Part of experiencing history, really getting into it, letting it seep into your pores and your imagination, is to make these pilgrimages, these odysseys, to the actual place where something interesting happened. The State Historical Society of North Dakota manages more than 50 museums and historic sites across the state where history really happened. Where will your journey take you?

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!