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Spotlight: The Newark Public Library’s History Archive

The Newark Public Library brings a significant piece of Newark’s past to the present by providing free access to the historical legacy of Newark, New Jersey, as recorded in the pages of the Newark Evening News.

Thanks to a federal grant, support from Senator Cory Booker’s office, and a partnership between the Newark Public Library and Advantage Archives, nearly 1.2M historical newspaper pages spanning from 1883 to 1971 are now accessible online for free through the Newark Public Library’s History Archive (https://newark.historyarchives.online). The archive creates a “portal to the past” to explore how Newark’s community, economy, and politics have shifted over time while providing a local perspective on national and international events. It is an indispensable resource for researching family history, allowing genealogists to search for birth, wedding, and death notices, obituaries, and articles about their ancestors in Newark and the surrounding areas. It also allows educators to leverage the Newark Evening News as a local primary source in their lesson plans.

The Newark Evening News, once the leading newspaper in New Jersey, holds a significant place in the history of American journalism. Founded in 1883, it served as Newark’s paper of record until its closure in 1972. It had bureaus in Montclair, Elizabeth, Metuchen, Morristown, Plainfield, Kearny, and Belmar. There were also bureaus in the New Jersey State House in Trenton and in Washington, DC. The newspaper was renowned for its comprehensive coverage, detailed reporting, and a broad spectrum of editorial content, which included everything from local news and statewide political affairs to cultural events and community issues, capturing the daily happenings and the city’s evolving story.

Throughout its nearly 90-year run, the Newark Evening News built a reputation for integrity and reliability. It was a primary source of news and information for residents of Newark and the broader New Jersey area, playing a crucial role in shaping public opinion and informing the citizenry. The newspaper’s influence extended beyond Newark, as it was respected for its in-depth coverage of New Jersey state politics, making it a vital resource for anyone interested in the machinations and developments within the state.

The closure of the paper in 1972 marked the end of an era in New Jersey journalism, but its legacy lives on through the digitization of the Newark Evening News, encapsulating nearly a century of journalism and providing a window into the past for researchers, students, and the general public.

Named after the late Newark historian Charles Cummings, the New Jersey Room has supported local history research and provided resources for genealogical studies, educational projects, and scholarly inquiry. It offers a unique array of archival materials that capture the social, economic, and cultural dynamics of Newark and the surrounding region across centuries. The importance of such collections is magnified by projects like the digitization of the Newark Evening News, which links past events directly to present interests and facilitates a deeper understanding of local history through accessible digital means.

Since its opening in 1889, the Newark Public Library has long been a cornerstone of community engagement and education for Newark residents and beyond. For over 135 years, the library has been a first-hand witness to New Jersey’s history and has committed to collecting, archiving, and sharing that history with all who are interested. Located within the library, The Charles F. Cummings New Jersey Information Center, more commonly known as the New Jersey Room, collects and preserves materials related to Newark and New Jersey’s history, including books, photographs, maps, and personal documents.

 
 
 
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 “We love the website; it’s so much easier to search than our previous system (or than microfilm), and personally, I can’t stop looking things up just for fun!”

~ Beth Zak-Cohen, New Jersey Information Center

Beth Zak-Cohen of the Charles F. Cummings New Jersey Information Center was instrumental in bringing this project to the community.

“We love the website; it’s so much easier to search than our previous system (or than microfilm), and personally, I can’t stop looking things up just for fun!”

She also shared some enthusiastic feedback she received from the library’s social media post announcing the archive’s availability. The community has already expressed their appreciation with comments on the post that included:

This project does more than just create a database of old newspapers for research; it connects the past to the present, offering insights into everyday life in Newark across decades. It’s a bridge that allows current and future generations to understand and appreciate the historical dynamics that have shaped their city. The accessibility of the archives ensures that this rich history is not forgotten. It underscores the importance of collaborative efforts among libraries, government bodies, and private organizations like Advantage Archives in easy access to our cultural heritage. It also highlights how technology can be leveraged to democratize access to historical knowledge, ensuring that this connection to the community is inclusive and not just those who can visit a library or archive in person or can afford a subscription to a pay-to-access service.

The Newark Archive contains Newspaper Content from 1883- 1971.

“Our guiding principles center around being a good partner, which is why we enter into partnerships like this with the intent of shouldering our fair share. Our focus is taking the burden off of the community for the ongoing costs associated with storage, hosting, development, and maintenance of the Community’s History Archive.” Says Jeffrey Kiley, Founder of Advantage Archives.

“We aim to be an active participant in the Newark Public Library’s efforts to make the Newark Evening News more accessible. The Newark History Archives are maintained for free by Advantage and do not require a subscription, seat license, annual support contract, or any other ongoing costs or expenses to the institution or members of the community.”

By digitizing these newspapers, the project allows current and future generations to access firsthand accounts of historical events, societal changes, and daily life in Newark and New Jersey. The archives serve not only as a repository of news but also as a historical record of the changing landscape of journalism, reflecting shifts in reporting styles, editorial focus, and the role of newspapers in the community.

 
 
 

Grant Kaestner at Advantage Archives developed the partnership with the Newark Public Library, collaborating with them on the project and overseeing the process of swiftly bringing the Newark History Archive to life:

“I’ve never been more excited to bring on a new digital history collection. The Newark Public Library has the most historic newspaper collection in the state of New Jersey. Now, patrons from all over the world can research the Newark Evening News from 1883 to 1971 from anywhere in the world. Beth Zak Cohen & Tom Ankner, in Newark’s Charles F. Cummings New Jersey Information Center, have been a pleasure to work with. They’ve made this project as seamless as possible, so we could make over one million newspaper images available to the public in less than 60 days’ time!”

The blend of tradition and technology showcases how the Newark Public Library is committed to meeting the changing needs of its communities while continuing to honor its role as custodian of cultural heritage. It exemplifies how libraries and archival institutions are adapting to the digital age, ensuring that historical records like the Newark Evening News are accessible in a format that can be delivered in the manner in which information is most commonly consumed in the modern age. It highlights the ongoing need for collaborative efforts among libraries, governmental bodies, and private organizations to unlock our shared cultural heritage.

The project to digitize the Newark Evening News archives, in conjunction with the ongoing work of the Newark Public Library and the Charles F. Cummings New Jersey Information Center, highlights the enduring importance of preserving local history in a manner that is accessible and engaging for everyone. It’s a testament to the power of collaboration and technology in keeping history alive and relevant in the modern world. Moreover, it demonstrates the role that technology can play in expanding access to historical knowledge, making it possible for anyone with internet access to explore and learn from the history of Newark, its primary newspaper, and the community it served. By bringing the past to the present, it can be leveraged to put today’s world in perspective and inform our decisions for the future.

Advantage partners with communities across the United States to create digital archives of local historical content that is impractical to physically access, burdensome to utilize as a research tool, or would otherwise be lost to the erosion of time. If you would like to see more local history online, please contact your local library, newspaper publisher, genealogical society, historical society, or educational institution, and encourage them to learn more about creating a Community History Archive, or have them contact Advantage Archives at (855) 303-2727.

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