April 22, 2010

Research tool: Old papers

This week, big news for research geeks like us: The Wisconsin Historical Society has finished renovating a gorgeous new reading room at its historic headquarters (map) on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. We’ll be among the many stopping by to bask in that calm, air-conditioned space.

But today Executive Director Andy Hall and I took a field trip to a less-feted section that may be an even greater help to investigative journalists and other diggers. It’s the low-ceilinged, dim, homely cave of wonders where the Wisconsin Historical Society compiles archives of a few hundred Wisconsin newspapers, and of newsletters from all over North America.

Where newsletters go not to die. Kate Golden/WisconsinWatch.org

Ron Larson, a staffer there (and soon-to-be blogger for WisconsinWatch.org), says the newspapers are all eventually transferred to microfilm, not digital formats, because microfilm is still considered a more reliable archiving medium. But there’s a huge backlog of papers to film — which means that some of this material is available only on paper.

It’s a story trove, and a good reminder (especially for those of us who have digitized our lives) that not everything is on the Internet.