LAKE COUNTY -- The Pathfinder Community Library and the Lake County Historical Society will work together to facilitate scanning and digitizing Lake County Star newspapers from 1872 through 1999.

Lake County Historical Society curator Jill Engelman said in a press release, the early copies of the paper have become "very fragile" and in some cases have "started to disintegrate," limiting their use by researchers. In addition, it is very time consuming to review numerous issues to find references to a single topic, she said.

To alleviate these problems and expand access to the archived papers, the organizations have contracted with the Clarke Historical Society at Central Michigan University to create an online searchable collection, the press release said.

"Many people come to us with requests to research obits and events from past issues," Engelman said. "In addition, when the historical society does exhibits, we have to look through multiple copies of the paper for ads and articles related to our topic. It is very time consuming. With the digitizing, we can preserve the physical copies because we won't have to use them. We can look online to find what we want."

Engelman added it will be more economical as well as more timely to be able to do a search online for a particular name or event, plus it will help preserve the original copies.

Work on the project will take place over the next two years, with more than 79,000 pages to scan and digitize. Editions scanned by the Library of Congress will be included in the project, as well as those scanned by the Big Rapids Community Library. The site is expected to go live in December 2021.

"The newspapers have come to us in a variety of ways," Engelman said. "When the Lake County Star building flooded, they donated the remaining papers that were not destroyed to the historical society and members of our organization, as well as the library, have donated papers over the years. We have most of the papers from 1873 to 1999, with very few missing. We will scan any additional copies that come to us, as well."

Once all the papers are scanned and digitized, the public will be able to search the collection from any computer free of charge. Offering the service for free increased the overall cost of the project, but both the library board and the historical society board felt it necessary to make it a free service to the public, the release said.

"When completed, this will allow anyone to access information from anywhere in the world," Pathfinder Library Board of Directors president Kathy Oostmeyer said. "The library receives multiple requests for information from back issues and this will allow citizens to explore and enjoy as much information as they wish."

The cost of the project is $30,248. The organizations have raised $27,310 to pay for it, including a $5,000 grant from the Lake County Community Foundation and a $5,000 gift from longtime historical society member Betty Johnston. In addition, the library has allocated $10,000 from its 2019 operating budget, and other private donations have been received.

"Betty has been very gracious and supportive of the historical society for many years," Engelman said. "In addition, members of the library and the historical society have stepped up with donations to help make this project happen."

An additional $2,938 is needed for the project. Anyone interested in supporting the project can make donations to either the library or the historical society.

Any funds received over and above the amount needed for the project will be reserved for use in scanning and digitizing papers from 2000 to the current date, the press release said.