The reels of microfilm hold close to a century's worth of copies of El Segundo's weekly newspaper.
The Herald's been around to cover local happenings, deaths, births, social events and more since 1911, which is the same year the city's 101-year-old oil refinery put El Segundo on the map.
But many of the reels stored away at the city's public library are deteriorating; some have yellowed edges, while others are in such a fragile state that library boosters fear they won't be accessible too much longer.
So the nonprofit group Friends of the El Segundo Public Library has embarked on its costliest project yet: converting the rolls of microfilm into digital files so that they can one day become part of a searchable online archive.
The group recently committed $20,000 - its largest single contribution to a library-related cause to date - and drummed up another $12,000 during a recent fundraising campaign. That's given members more than enough to get started as they try to come up with the remaining funding.
"That was our first goal, to get it preserved," El Segundo resident Sari Brann, a retired children's librarian and member of the Friends' history committee, said of the newspaper archive. "Because when it's gone, it's gone."
By making past copies of the Herald available through the library's website, residents would be able to zero in on specific historical events by using search terms. In contrast, scanning rolls of microfilm - without a specific date in mind - would take much more time.
Since mailing a contribution letter to Friends members several weeks ago, the group's leaders have been pleased with the community's response. Many residents pitched in along with local businesses, the El Segundo Herald among them.
The newspaper, which offered $2,000 toward the project, has no digital archive of its own, said Sue Carter, who serves as chairwoman of the Friends' history committee and like Brann has been involved in the planning and fundraising.
"We've never gone out to the public and asked," Carter said of the group that raises much of its money from used book sales. "I'm pleased. Absolutely delighted ... My first goal was $10,000."
Since the campaign began, the Friends haven't wasted any time.
So far, Carter said 24 of 80 boxes of microfilm have been packed up and shipped to a Bethesda, Md., company that specializes in converting rolls of microfilm into digital files. So as to minimize potential risks, the group has chosen to send the newspaper reels - which cover the period from 1916 through 2008 - a few boxes at a time.
But that's not to say the group's job is close to being done.
In addition to drumming up the remaining $8,000 needed to complete the work, there will be ongoing expenses to maintain a system on the library server. Brann said that could amount to roughly $1,100 each year.
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How to help
Anyone wanting to contribute to the Friends of the El Segundo Public Library's archival efforts can do so by calling Sue Carter 310-640-8923. Or send a check made out to "Friends of the El Segundo Public Library," (write Herald conversion in the memo) to the library, 111 W. Mariposa Ave., El Segundo, CA, 90245. For more on the group, link to: http://bit.ly/YNSn0Z