Oxford Library leads efforts to digitize back issues of The Leader
By Danielle Smith
Leader Staff Writer
The Oxford Leader has been a staple in the Oxford community throughout its 121-year history. From documenting monumental moments that would forever change Oxford to sharing the stories of those that call the community home, The Leader has been around for it all. Thanks to the Clarke Historical Library out of Central Michigan University, the stories in those long-forgotten pages of The Leader were given a new chance at life in a digitized form, dating back to the first issue published on April 15, 1898.
In January of 2016, the Oxford Public Library hosted a fireside chat titled, “Celebrating Two Centuries of Michigan Newspapers,” lead by Frank Boles, director of the Clarke Historical Library. Boles had brought cards with him showing that the Clarke Historical Library digitized newspapers. Knowing that this is something OPL had been wanting to pursue for some time, they reached out not only to the Clarke Historical Library, but to Sherman Publications, that owns the Oxford Leader. Once everyone was on board, the project could begin.
“It’s a big process surprisingly. When we made the arrangements with the Clarke and sent them the reels, we were told it was going to take two years for them to set everything up and digitize it and make it searchable,” said Sandy Gilmore, head of adult services at the Oxford Public Library.
While OPL had bound copies of the Oxford Leader available to the public spanning several decades, they did not have the complete collection however, Sherman Publications did and ended up providing the Clarke Historical Library with 126 reels.
“Our objective, obviously, was to make sure that whatever product we went with, that it was going to be searchable,” said Bryan Cloutier, director of the Oxford Public Library. “As a public library, (our objective) is to make sure that whatever we invest our time and money into that the end product is going to be something that the public and the taxpayers can utilize…anywhere, anytime, for free.”
According to Cloutier, the project cost approximately $75,000 with investments in both private and public funds as well as a generous donation from the Northeast Oakland Historical Society, of which Cloutier is president.
“We have had some significant contributions come forward through the Northeast Oakland Historical Society and Museum here in town that had allowed us the ability to lessen the tax burden on the taxpayer in paying for this product outright. That made it much more manageable for us to undertake,” Cloutier said.
The museum decided to contribute to the project in honor of Mildred H. Schmidt, who Cloutier said was a “pillar with the society” and had left them a “generous donation in her estate and as part of that, the society made the decision to pay it forward.”
When Gilmore received word from the Clarke Historical Library that this phase of the project was complete,
she was told that this was one of the largest spans of Michigan newspapers that they had digitized in their collection.
“It’s not only significant to us, but a significant piece of Michigan history as well and that’s why we needed to do it,” Cloutier said.
Gilmore and Cloutier were quick to note that the project would not have been possible if it weren’t for the partnership formed between OPL, Sherman Publications and the Northeast Oakland Historical Society.
“If we hadn’t been able to leverage those three groups coming together, quite honestly, I don’t think the public library would have been able to do it completely on its own because we needed to have the support of Sherman Publications in order to digitize their works so we’re grateful for that,” Cloutier said.
“It’s a wonderful thing that the Oxford Library was able to archive The Oxford Leader,” said Jim Sherman, Jr., publisher.. “It will benefit the community because if you wanted that information before, you either had to come into the office and get the old newspaper or use a microfiche machine…so with this, everything is wide open.”
The Sherman family has been at the helm of The Leader since 1955 when James A. Sherman and his wife Hazel purchased it. Jim said the goal of The Leader has been and always will be, “to try and get everybody’s name and picture in there.”
To access the finished product, viewers can search the Digital Michigan Newspaper Portal at digmichnews.cmich.edu or visit the Oxford Public Library website miopl.org which will provide guests with a direct link. Once on the site, viewers will be able to search for anything that the Leader or its previous names, Oxford Intruder, Oxford Leader (and Globe), published over the years through 2014. Going forward, Cloutier said the plan is to have the digitized newspaper be two years behind what is currently being published.
“I see this as only the beginning of what is possible for us; really the sky’s the limit,” Cloutier said. “The fact that we were able to (complete this task) with very little resources…is very exceptional for a smaller community to be able to do something like this.”
“I think it’s going to make it so much more accessible to the public and I think they are really going to enjoy it,” Gilmore said. “I’m hoping that it brings people forward with stories of their own that they will share with us.”