The AADL archives the Ann Arbor News
by Beth Dwoskin
Public libraries are often centers for local history research, but the Ann Arbor District Library is going a step further. In 2010, the AADL took custody of the archives of the defunct Ann Arbor News--a vast collection of bound volumes, clipping files, and photographic negatives which now fill a suite of offices on Green Road.
Cataloging all this is a surprisingly intricate project--because both the physical archives and the intellectual property rights still belong to Herald Publications. Herald is a subsidiary of Advance Publications, the Newhouse family company that owned the News and still owns AnnArbor.com. Among other restrictions, the library can't simply scan the bound volumes and can't digitize anything having to do with University of Michigan athletics or anything that was provided by wire services.
Faced with the sale of the News' building, the company had to do something with the material stored there. Putting them in the care of professional information specialists, while retaining ownership, was a smart move. But the AADL is much more than a caretaker. Since the acquisition, its staff has been organizing, cataloging, and digitizing the clippings and negatives, placing the results on a dedicated website, Old News (oldnews.aadl.org), along with pages from the Ann Arbor Argus, the Ann Arbor Argus-Democrat, the Ann Arbor Courier, and the Ann Arbor Sun.
Productions librarians, staff, and interns are scanning based on historical themes and patron areas of interest. For example, a "feature" on the John Norman Collins murders in the 1960s combines scanned stories from the News with links to other relevant material and podcast interviews with historical figures such as former sheriff Doug Harvey. This approach results in a creative web page dedicated to local history, rather than just a portal to a digitized newspaper, which would be impossible in any case because of the issues regarding the digital rights. Other features trace the history of local institutions such as movie theaters, Argus Camera, and the Ark.
The News' archive
of photographic negatives is the highlight of the collection. Photos by long time photographers Jack Stubbs and Eck Stanger show up in digitized format as crisp, light, and filled with detail and contrast that were never visible in newsprint.
Among the countless treasures are a photo from 1957 of the Ann Arbor fire chief with his new station wagon, a Cadillac decked with fins and chrome; shops on Main Street in 1964 being painted "three pre-determined color schemes," including the Sugar Bowl Cafe, Richman Clothing, and Walk-Over Shoes; and a frozen custard stand at Liberty and Stadium in 1948, completely on its own, surrounded only by gravel and dirt.
[Originally published in March, 2013.]