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 Randy Ernst-Meyer, the adult and teen librarian at the Hazel Park Memorial District Library, showcases some bound newspapers from the past.

Randy Ernst-Meyer, the adult and teen librarian at the Hazel Park Memorial District Library, showcases some bound newspapers from the past.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Hazel Park library wins grant to digitally preserve old newspapers

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published February 14, 2020

HAZEL PARK — An extensive collection of vintage out-of-print newspapers that were slowly disintegrating at Hazel Park’s library will now be preserved for future generations, thanks to a grant the library won in a statewide contest.

The Hazel Park Memorial District Library, located at 123 E. Nine Mile Road, was one of four finalists vying for the 2020 @DigMichNews Grant, through the Clarke Historical Library, located on the campus of Central Michigan University.

The winner was decided by popular vote, with supporters tweeting #DigHazelPark last month to support the Hazel Park library. The other finalists were the Adrian District Library, the Grandville Historical Commission, and the Salem-South Lyon District Library.

The Hazel Park library will use the funds to preserve such papers as the Hazel Park News (1956-80) and the Palladium (1939-55). The grant enables the library to digitize 2,000 pages of fading, yellowing, crumbling paper — compiling their contents in a database for patrons to peruse. Each volume has between 250 and 300 pages. The library has 40 volumes of the Hazel Park News, and 31 volumes of the Palladium. The Palladium was Hazel Park’s first paper.

The original plan was to also include the Ferndale Gazette Times (1938-80).

“I recently discovered that the Ferndale Historical Museum already had the Ferndale Gazette Times digitized, so we will not be including that publication,” said Corrine Stocker, the library director. “Due to the great expense of digitization, we are going to focus strictly on having the Palladium and the Hazel Park News done. We are planning to start with the oldest and most brittle papers first. The grant, valued at $10,000, will allow us to have approximately four volumes done.  We are planning to apply for the grant again in the future. We are also going to try to have one volume done per year.”

Stocker said she’s elated for her library to have received the grant.

“The contest aspect was fun. It helped draw awareness to this project,” Stocker said. “Prior to winning this grant, the digitization of our historic news collection felt like an insurmountable dream — something that we really needed to do, but would likely never be able to afford.

“Taking an old newspaper and making it accessible to the public via the Internet is an extremely involved and labor-intensive project,” Stocker continued. “The volumes first need to be unbound, which is another expensive and delicate project in and of itself. Then the fragile pages need to be carefully scanned, on an incredibly expensive machine.  Next, they have to be made into microfiche. Lastly, the microfiche has to be uploaded to a host website and presumably indexed. Winning this grant allows us to get a modest start on the project, and see the light at the end of the tunnel. We intend to continue to apply for various grants to fund this continuing project and preserve our history.”

In its application for the grant, authored by Randy Ernst-Meyer, the library’s teen and adult services librarian, the case was made that the area’s past is worth preserving.

“These four newspapers chronicle the unique perspective of the Detroit border suburbs in southern Oakland County,” Ernst-Meyer stated. “The papers highlight the tumultuous conflicts of the 20th century, including the civil rights movement, race riots in Detroit, Vietnam era, etc. Suburban papers of this era give a unique insight to what were then new environments. Suburbs became the homes of the newly affluent working class.

“The (Hazel Park) patrons deserve access to this valuable window to the world in which their families and friends lived,” the application continued. “This history should be preserved for anybody that is interested in learning about the Oakland County area during that era.”

In a follow-up interview, Ernst-Meyer said that many libraries maintained collections of local newspapers until the 1990s, when they began running out of space for their collections.

“The internet also promised free access to information, and I believe many libraries thought someone would post these papers online. This did not come to pass, and most newspapers were lost,” Ernst-Meyer said. “It is fortunate that a librarian (in Hazel Park) decided to save our collection.”

The library hopes to begin digitally archiving the collection in the coming months.

“I screamed out loud when I heard we had won,” Ernst-Meyer added. “I hugged everyone. We, the library staff, patrons and friends worked so hard making postcards, sending them and tweeting.”

Amy Beem, another Hazel Park librarian, echoed this sentiment.

“I feel like we’ve won the Oscars!” Beem said.