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Geneva Republicans now online, digital

GENEVA – The Geneva Republican began publishing in 1878, and its inaugural edition – and all those that followed through 2011 – are now in a digital online database at the Geneva Public Library’s website,

It all came about because the library’s microfilm and the machinery to look at it was failing, said Debbie Walsh, head of adult services at the library. 

“We’ve known for some time that our microfilm was failing, between brittleness and the device people used to see it and print it,” Walsh said. “We had two devices. One failed, and then we could not get parts anymore for the other one. People could not service it.”

They started pricing new technology in 2009, but they found it was just as daunting as trying to use the old machinery, Walsh said.

The cost was $12,000 just to buy a new device to read microfilm.

“So we started thinking about alternatives and looked into digitizing it,” she said. “It really was a question of knowing we were not going to allow people to use microfilm much longer.”

They found a company, Northern Micrographics of La Crosse, Wis., able and willing to take on the project of digitizing the aging and brittle microfilm. 

“The microfilm was not done all the same way,” Walsh said. “Some were negative, some were positive, some were double-sided – it was chaos. They had to go through each frame of each reel and digitally clip each to make it a single frame.”

In May 2012, the company worked on the project 60 reels at a time, finishing this year, Walsh said.

It was piecemeal because library officials did not want to send the whole microfilm collection over at once.

But even if there had been a disaster with the microfilm, the Geneva History Center has a second copy, Walsh said.

Shaw Media now owns and publishes The Republicans, serving St. Charles, Geneva and Batavia, in addition to the Kane County Chronicle,

The total cost to digitize was $20,175, with $15,000, covered by a grant from the Fabyan Foundation. The rest came from the library’s budget, Walsh said.

One drawback to the digitized system is it lacks the ability to search for keywords, such as a family name.

Walsh said the cost for indexing the system as a searchable database was $85,000. 

“There is no way we could do that,” Walsh said.

The library gets letters from people doing genealogy research, who now will be able to search the Geneva Republican online digital database themselves, she said.

What the library used to do was have a member of the staff use the microfilm to find articles the family was looking for, print them out and mail it to them, Walsh said.

People doing genealogy with an idea of what dates are involved can just go page by page online and then print what they want without involving library staff, Walsh said.

“We have a lot of folks with a connection to Geneva trying to track down information,” Walsh said. “We’re hoping to see patterns. If most requests come from the 1930s, and if we can swing some budgeting ... [and] grant funding, maybe we can just pick off the [decades] that are most important for a searchable database.”

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