If you’ve ever had occasion to do some research into Riverside history, you have checked out the Riverside Public Library’s historic newspaper archive. Newspapers like the now-defunct Riverside News and other less well-known publications are great resources, but they exist only on microfilm, which make them difficult to use even under the best conditions.

But thanks to a $2,735 grant from the Riverside Township Board of Trustees and an equal donation from the Friends of the Riverside Public Library, those microfilm rolls are in the process of being digitized.

An Iowa-based company called Advantage Archive received the nearly 40 boxes of microfilm rolls, representing thousands of newspaper pages from 1912 through 1976, in September. The Riverside-Brookfield Landmark, which was first published in 1985, is not part of the project. The library has bound copies of the Landmark from 1985 through about 2010.

In its digitization process, the company will use optical character recognition, or OCR, technology to make the newspapers searchable by keywords. Anyone using the raw microfilm will tell you that scrolling through page after page trying to find a needle in a haystack is very time-consuming, arduous work.

“If someone is doing a research project, that’s not the best way to look information up,” said Diane Silva, assistant director of the Riverside Public Library who is spearheading the initiative. “We want to turn that collection into something usable for online research. The goal is to take that labor away,”

The digitization project is also about safeguarding the microfilm archive. In pitching the grant request to the Riverside Township Board in August, Library Director Janice Foley told trustees she believes the library’s rolls of microfilm of the Riverside News and other early publications are the only ones that exist.

“The lifespan of microfilm is not very long … and we don’t want to lose all of that information,” Foley said.

She also said the digital newspaper database will complement the library’s robust genealogy database.

“We want the local history to be just as easy to search and for people to come in and use them,” Foley said.

Silva said the library expects to get the fully digitized database back from Advantage Archive by mid-December. Once that happens, the database will be accessible to anyone from the Riverside Public Library website (riversidelibrary.org). You won’t even need a Riverside Library-issued card to search the historic newspaper database.

Brookfield Public Library already has part of its historic newspaper collection digitized. Its online research database includes digital, searchable versions of the Brookfield Suburban Life (2009-13), Brookfield Citizen (1954-69), Brookfield Magnet (1913-45) and others. The Riverside-Brookfield Landmark, which began covering Brookfield in 1997, has not yet been digitized. Articles from 2005 to the present are searchable on the newspaper’s website at RBLandmark.com.

The database is accessible to anyone, regardless of whether you have a Brookfield-issued library, if you are searching the database onsite at the Linda Sokol Francis Brookfield Library. However, if you would like to search offsite, you need either a Brookfield-issued library card or a subscription to the NewspaperArchive.com, which hosts the database.