Our View: Newspapers’ preservation is critical for Iowa – The Daily Nonpareil


Try to comprehend 12 million pages of newspapers.

Here’s an exercise: The five sections in this newspaper combine to make 38 pages. You’d need nearly 316,000 copies of this edition to reach 12 million pages.

A little more math: It takes approximately 3,000 of our current news pages, laid end to end, to stretch a mile – meaning 12 million pages would be about 4,000 miles long, roughly the straight-line distance from Miami to Anchorage, Alaska.

That’s a lot of news – and that’s why it’s so important that the State Historical Society of Iowa has announced it’s digitizing that much fragile, yet irreplaceable, history.

An agreement the state announced Thursday lends more than 12 million pages from 300-plus Iowa newspapers, dating back to the 1830s, to a Cedar Rapids company for preservation.

The deal, which comes free of charge to taxpayers, is designed to give Iowans substantially more access to millions more snippets of history as it happened. It will increase by half the number of pages from 650 newspapers Iowans can access at sites in Des Moines and Iowa City.

One of the first businesses that set up in nearly any Iowa settlement was a newspaper. Back in the frontier days, these newspapers were vastly different than we see today, but they served a vital role in detailing the happenings in town and the world.

Nearly 200 years later, this history remains in high demand. Scarcely a week goes by in our office without a phone call or an email of someone seeking a newspaper to find a story about a relative or an obituary that could be the key to unlocking a family tree.

Long after its printing, this news has retained its value. Given the high demand and historical importance, such access is vital to preserve the story of how we, as Iowans, got to where we are today.

In Council Bluffs, we’re lucky. The Council Bluffs Public Library has digital, searchable archives that include our very first edition in 1857. The second phase of an ongoing project is digitizing the last gap – 1983 to 2002 – in their collection documenting every publication we’ve ever produced.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, too, has preserved in Utah pages of The Nonpareil’s forerunners to document the days before Council Bluffs assumed its present-day name.

But not every community has had as good of fortune or community partners as Council Bluffs to save this history for eternity.

By 2022, if everything goes to plan, Iowans should have 36 million pages – a mind-boggling number, really – of newspapers, including some dating back to before statehood, available to browse. Preservation of these documents is critical for telling the story of both this state and individual Iowans.


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