NIU library digitizing Northern Star issues from 1899 to 1997


A copy of the first edition issue of the newspaper that came to be known as the Northern Star rests on a podium. (Sean Reed | Northern Star)

By Michael Mollsen, Written Managing Editor

DeKALB – Through the NIU Library, the Northern Star’s older issues, dating back to 1899 (the first year the Northern Star began printing), are being digitized and will be available for the public to read online later this year.

Before the old print issues were digitized, many of the past issues from 1899 to 1997 had been tucked away in the library and at the Northern Star’s office, making them hard to access.

Matthew Short, head of digital collections and the interim head of technical services, and Sata Prescott, preservation coordinator, are leading the project.

“Our dean was looking for projects for the day of giving, I think in 2021, and the Northern Star’s one thing that gets used quite a bit and requested a lot – and one of the collections we’ve gotten the most traffic on in our digital collection is our Northern yearbooks,” Short said. “So, we thought this would be a good complement to that collection.”

Before now, the archives were missing issues.

“The entire run from 1899 to 1997 is on microfilm – and that’s what we digitized from … There are some missing issues, and there’s one missing reel, but it’s not that bad,” Short said. “We also have the print in the basement. Our plan is once the microfilm part of the project is done, we’ll go back down to the basement, see what we have in print and hopefully be able to fill in some of those gaps.”

The digitization team also discovered special editions that the Northern Star no longer does.

“Back in the 1920s, they seem to do a yearly joke issue that’s all satire. We only caught it because we were doing the very tedious work of saying, ‘Okay, these images are from volume, and number 30, or something like that,’ and we found one that didn’t make any sense in sequence,” Prescott said. “So, instead of the issue number, they had just a question mark printed on the document.”

These digitized issues also allow people to see students’ reactions and ideas regarding large scale events in the past.

Mike Korcek was a reporter and editor for the Northern Star from 1966 to 1969, and he sees the value of looking back to old issues.

“Dealing with the Kent State shootings and the Jackson State shootings and reactions to Vietnam, I mean, there was some heavy stuff going on on campus,” Korcek said. “Somebody who thinks, ‘God, nothing ever happens at NIU’ …  wrong!”

The sentimentality of the project is also key. Shelley Hendricks, adviser to the Northern Star, gets a lot of requests from Northern Star and NIU alumni to find issues they might have been in or written.

“I’ve gotten everything from, ‘I’m in charge of someone’s retirement party, and I know they started their career at NIU and mentioned that the Northern Star wrote a story about them sometime in, you know, 1980 or something,’” Hendricks said. “And so then they’ll ask me to help locate that.”

Students and alumni will be able to access the older issues soon through NIU’s Digital Library. Issues between 1899 to the 1920s will be available to access online before the end of the semester, while the rest will be available Fall 2023.