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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Canadian: Newspaper Records  by Ryan Taylor, revised by Susanna de Groot, PLCGS. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Newspapers - Obtaining and Viewing the Microfilm

Once the researcher has located microfilm of the newspaper, they can begin looking at it. This may involve a trip to the library which holds it, or obtaining it on interlibrary loan.

Interlibrary Loan

Interlibrary loan is one of the most underused of genealogical tools. For some reason, genealogists feel they must go to the library which owns a book or microfilm, or else buy them for their personal library. It is much easier, and cheaper, to bring them to your local public library for a short time, use them and then send them back.

A second fallacy for many genealogists is that they have to find the library where the book is available first, before approaching their library to make the loan. It is your librarian’s task to find what library has the document, and then approach them for the loan. The patron has only to wait. The library has various online tools which help in locating the material and then placing the loan request.

This being said, in the case of very obscure genealogical records, and unfortunately newspaper microfilm falls in this category, it can be better for the genealogist to inform the library of a possible source for the loan. One reason for this is the fact that many microforms are not included in library catalogues, as we have observed earlier. This makes locating them for loan purposes more difficult. So, adding this information to your loan request may be advisable.

This is how interlibrary loan operates: Knowing that every library cannot own everything their patrons might want, libraries agree to share their collections. This programme began decades ago, but it has grown into a substantial part of library operations.

Here are some points to remember about interlibrary loan:

  • Not all materials can be lent. Rare materials, or those for reference only, cannot leave their own library.
  • It may be possible to have a limited number of pages photocopied in place of sending the item through the mail. Consider whether this would suit your needs better.
  • Charges for this service vary. In most cases, there is no charge, but you may be expected to pay postage costs. Some academic libraries make hefty per-item charges for the service. You will be asked whether you are willing to pay them before the loan goes through.
  • One reason for the patron leaving the choice of lending institution to their own library is that it might be easier to obtain it from one place rather than another.
  • Try to provide your librarian with proof that the item you are requesting actually exists in the form you want. The best possibility is a printout from a catalogue, or an identification number from a large online catalogue (such as AMICUS at the Library and Archives Canada, or WorldCat).

Once the microfilm arrives at your library, you will have it available for a limited time only. Be sure to note the due date and pursue your research in the period given.

Genealogists who hope to use interlibrary loan more extensively might want to examine Newspapers: a guide to interlibrary loan, a researcher’s handbook, compiled by Rhonda Marty (Revised edition, Arlington, Wash.: Stillaguamish Valley Genealogical Society, 1993).

Visiting A Library or Archives

Before visiting a library or archives to view microfilm, be sure to contact them to discuss their hours, rules for use, whether the microfilm is still available and whether it is necessary to reserve either a seat or a microfilm reader on the intended day. If you intend to make copies from the microfilm, ask about any special circumstances which might govern use of the reader-printers. For example, it is necessary to have a supply of quarters to make these copies at the Archives of Ontario, and quarters are not available from AO staff.

The most recent technological development in the use of newspapers is the production of digitised images online. This makes the entire newspaper available to us at home via our computers, without waiting. The advantage for genealogists is that the exact image—that is, the newspaper itself, as printed—is available for us to use, and that no intervening indexer will be required. The digitised images are searchable, so we can discover every mention of a family name in a matter of minutes. You can then download the news items you wish.

Most of the digitized newspaper projects are fee-based, that is, you must pay to use them. The digitising process is very expensive, and this allows the sites to pay their own way. Not all genealogists are in the position to afford this, so the inexpensive (or free) public library/microfilm route may be the only alternative.

As an example of a digitised site, the Alberta Heritage Digitization Project based at the University of Calgary is interesting. It has the advantage of being available without cost, since it is publicly sponsored.

An enthusiastic article in a genealogical newsletter told of reading the Sexsmith Sentinel 1949-1954 online at Our Future Our Past

The online sites of individual newspapers, many of which also require payment to use, are usually for current issues only. The archive of articles which they keep may not reflect the entire newspaper as it was published and are not in digitised format. While it is possible to find recent family materials in these archived newspapers, it is important that researchers make a distinction between the temporary archive reflected on the newspaper websites and the permanent record reflected in the microfilm or digitised versions of the paper publication.

Online sites, even those with digitised images, must still be regarded as having a short life, since they change often and are dependent on constant maintenance to survive.

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Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Canadian: Newspaper Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.