The Library of Congress’ Transition to Digital Newspaper Records

  • Danielle Coffey
  • 02.25.2016

There is an inarguable need to preserve our nation’s historical record, and The Library of Congress helps our industry do just that by cataloging our editions and maintaining our nation’s history. However, the Library still requires 405 newspapers to submit their editions in microfilm, a preservation format that few use today.

Not only is microfilm an outdated 20th century technology, there are new digital formats that are easier and less expensive to produce. Unfortunately, the Library of Congress continues to require that newspapers submit their editions on microfilm, even when the marketplace is full of digital formats that are significantly more time- and cost-efficient. This requirement is all the more surprising given that everyone these days retrieves data in digital formats that utilize the latest technology, and on the devices and platforms used to view them. Let’s be real: Who has a microfilm projector lying around their home or office? No one! But, most do have computers, tablets, mobile devices, or a combination of these devices at the ready.

In 2009, the Library recognized that microfilm was becoming unworkable as a format for preserving the historical record—costs were increasing and vendors were dwindling. As a result, the Library developed a technical pilot program to explore the deposit of news content in a digital format. When the pilot program concluded in 2012, the Library identified a preferred version of PDF (PDF/A) as an alternative format to microfilm.

Problem solved, right? Not exactly. It is unclear why the pilot did not transition into a permanent process. However, the Library recently expressed an interest in revisiting the pilot program outcome and determining whether a path forward exists for PDFs to replace microfilm. The answer seems clear to us that the world – and the historical record – can survive without microfilm.

We believe we can find a balance between preserving history, and saving time and money—resources that are scarce in our industry today.

The News Media Alliance continues to meet with the Library of Congress, the Copyright Office, and interested Members of Congress on this important issue for our members.


  • Danielle Coffey
Danielle Coffey is Vice President of Public Policy at News Media Alliance