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Unusual Collection of American Newspapers Donated to Duke Libraries

With libraries across the world getting rid of their print editions of historic newspapers, the new collection at Duke will be one of the few places where they will be available

Note to editors: High-resolution images from the collection can be found on the Web at Media wanting to attend Thursday's 7 p.m. event are asked to contact Ilene Nelson in advance at 660-5816.

DURHAM, N.C. -- A 5,000-volume collection containing many rare and historically important 19th and 20th century American newspapers has been donated to Duke University Libraries.

Novelist and essayist Nicholson Baker announced the transfer of the American Newspaper Repository (ANR) during a speech Thursday at Duke. Baker founded the repository in 1999 and acquired the bulk of the collection from the British Library, which like other major libraries got rid of long runs of original edition newspapers and now rely instead on microfilm editions.

"Many of the newspapers in the collection exist nowhere else in their original print format," Baker said. "These 19th and 20th century newspapers are magnificent landmarks of American publishing.

"I'm thrilled that they're going to Duke. This is the best possible thing that could happen to a singular collection."

The ANR collection includes extensive runs of the Chicago Tribune, the New York Tribune and Herald Tribune and The New York World. The World, published by Joseph Pulitzer, had the largest circulation of any American newspaper in the 1890s. Short stories by O. Henry were printed in The World, as were caricatures by Al Frueh. The World also was the first newspaper to include crossword puzzles and children's activities.

ANR also preserves many immigrant newspapers, including the Irish World, and foreign language papers such as the Yiddish Forward and the Greek Atlantis.

"The papers form a documentary collection of great importance for historical and cultural studies," said University Librarian David Ferriero. "The Duke University Libraries are proud to serve both society and scholarship by preserving them."

Researchers began using the newspapers at Duke even before the gift was announced. Robert Byrd, director of the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library at Duke, reported that users have included students from Duke and other institutions, a well-known graphics artist and the compilers of a retrospective collection of a long-running American comic strip. "Some of the comic strips could be located nowhere else, not even in the artist's archive," Byrd said.

Baker, whose novels include "Vox," "The Fermata" and "The Mezzanine," has in recent years become known as a passionate defender of the print medium. His 2001 book, "Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper," criticizes libraries for their practice of discarding original newspapers in favor of microfilm.

At Duke, the newspapers in the ANR are housed at a state-of-the-art library facility where the well-regulated temperature and low humidity are conducive to their long-term preservation. Previously, they were kept in an old mill converted into a public building in Rollinsford, N.H.