Missourians race to save old community newspapers

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As one would expect, the newspaper library has an unmistakably musty aroma. But it's the pungent aroma of vinegar that has historical preservationists scrambling to keep from losing valuable portions of what is billed as the nation's largest state newspaper collection on microfilm.

Condensation has seeped into the oversized metal canisters that hold some of the library's vast collection of archival newspapers, says Ara Kaye, a senior reference specialist. The deterioration of the acetate film is known as vinegar syndrome for the telltale odor it emits.
The collection boasts more than 3,500 titles from every county in the state -- from the Audrain Journal (circa 1889) to Wyaconda's Clark County News (1904-1923) -- on 41 million pages of microfilm. The oldest title is the St. Louis Missouri Gazette, founded in 1808.
Several thousand rolls of threatened film have been sent to a Kansas City company for reproduction, Miss Kaye says. The society now will keep two copies of its newspaper files: a working copy for researchers and a second set stored in a temperature-controlled underground cave.

Although Miss Kaye and other researchers detected the deterioration before it caused widespread damage, they now are faced with a shortage of money to pay for the duplication costs, which range from $200,000 to $300,000.

Private donors, including many small-town newspaper publishers, have contributed or pledged nearly $150,000, says Gary Kremer, executive director of the State Historical Society of Missouri.

The fundraising push comes as the society grapples with a 10 percent budget cut in the current fiscal year, coupled with an expected additional 3 percent cut in appropriations. The changes have forced the society to start charging research fees for other-than-routine requests.

Missouri historians and amateur genealogists call the society's newspaper collection a treasure trove of the state's culture, an unmatched window into small-town life.

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