Inside the Archives

Inside the Archives – Spring 2017 – Volume VI Number 2

Spring 2017
Volume VI. Number 2.

Welcome to Spring 2017!
We hope your academic year wrap-up is going well!

2017 is another great year at Accessible Archives!  We have added new content to our African American Newspapers and Women’s Suffrage Collection, and have inaugurated a new series entitled America and World War I. Our acclaimed American County Histories database is growing monthly.

We are also expanding our Newsletter to discuss issues of relevant interest to the Library Community written by Library industry practitioners! This month we will broach the topic of Fake News and Information Literacy with our guest writer, Jill O’Neill.

Information Literacy: Applying the CRAPP Test to Historical Accounts

Propaganda. Misinformation. Fake News.
Such characterizations suggest an intent on the part of a writer or reporter to influence an unseen reader’s interpretation of the information being presented. A library’s historical archive can hold numerous contemporary accounts of an event that might readily be viewed as propaganda or “fake news” by a later generation of readers. One narrative may present the event in vocabulary with a particular appeal for its readers while another may appear to offer specifics without supporting corroborative materials. From the perspective of a scholar or specialist, the study of such multiple and varying accounts offers the opportunity to more deeply grasp the underlying attitudes of one particular group set in conflict with another.

However, when less-experienced users encounter the same conflicting accounts in an information resource such as Accessible Archives, they may be taken aback. How can the multiplicity of the accounts (frequently conflicting) be useful? How can one recognize the factual material and set it apart from the expression of opinion or deliberate attempt to mislead? It’s easy for individuals to overlook substantive reporting because of the distractions presented by “fake news” or other forms of misinformation encountered daily. Mastering the research process as part of an assigned paper or project enables students to develop those information literacy skills required in evaluating any primary content for reliability and bias.

The CRAAP test (developed by the Meriam Library, California State University – Chico) provides many of the touchstones that readers must use in building their research skills as well as their awareness of what might constitute “fake news”.  CRAAP is an acronym for specific criteria that are useful in evaluating a document. The “C” is for currency, the “R” for relevancy, the double occurrence of “A” is for accuracy and authority while the final “P” stands for Purpose (whether to inform, persuade, sell, entertain, etc.).

Depending upon the target audience, it can sometimes be easier to identify issues of bias or authoritativeness by looking at an historical event (distanced from immediate emotional response) and how that event was covered or presented in then-contemporary accounts rather than trying to sift through more immediate events burdened with unexamined or unconscious attitudes.

Allowing a less-experienced user to explore digital images and collections of historical data such as those found in Accessible Archives may cause that individual to employ (and unconsciously absorb) the habit of applying those CRAAP criteria. Reading contemporary accounts written by private individuals regarding public events or in response to coverage appearing in newspapers of the time can illuminate how best to consider conflicting views of those events. An account may indeed reveal bias while still making it clear how the author felt about the information being presented. Again, is the purpose of the presentation to inform the reader about an event or to influence the reader’s perception of the event? Bias may be present in a document, but the document may still be a valid source of information.

Jill O’Neill is the Educational Programs Manager for the National Information Standards Organization (NISO). She has been an active member of the information community for thirty years, most recently managing the professional development programs for NFAIS (National Federation of Advanced Information Services). Her publishing expertise was gained working for such prominent content providers as Elsevier, the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI, now Clarivate Analytics), and John Wiley & Sons. Jill writes for a diverse set of publications, including Information Today and the Scholarly Kitchen blog.
Jill O’Neill

What might be such an example?
Because it was the first illustrated weekly in America, Frank Leslie’s Weekly is a source readily encountered in many reference collections covering the nineteenth century, and it is just one source of many included in Accessible Archives’ collections. Searching for information about conditions in Civil War prison camps, a student might easily encounter an article from that periodical noting differences between conditions in the Confederate prison camp at Andersonville (built in early 1864), and those in prison camps in the North. One such account found in the October 8, 1864 issue of the newspaper contains specifics about the daily rations issued to imprisoned Confederate soldiers, information that may be verified through other sources such as public records.  The news item admits that this is less than the daily ration provided to Union soldiers but finds that justifiable given that the prisoners “really do no hard work”.  That phrase might signal to the reader a slight hint of biased reporting or propaganda, but more obviously subsequent paragraphs make clear the reporter’s view that the Northern prison camps clearly maintained superior conditions and treatment to those existing in Southern camps:

But notice the petty annoyances, the absence of provisions for cleanliness and comfort, the pillaging of boxes sent from the North, the heartless insults of the guards…How does the management of a Southern prison contrast with that of a Northern? In the one the unhappy inmates are treated as brutes—in the other as men.

The last line clearly makes the claim that the Northern prison camp was more enlightened in its care of prisoners than those on the Southern side. The final paragraph of the article states authoritatively that the Confederate prisoners in the Northern prison camps received better medical care than did many of the poor in Northern cities.

Clearly, the purpose of the article was to inform Leslie’s readers of conditions in the prison camps, but in present-day thinking the article can justifiably be characterized as propaganda, intended to persuade a Northern audience of readers of the moral superiority of its behaviors. The accuracy of the itemized ration list may be verified through public records elsewhere as corroborated fact, but the language of subsequent paragraphs establishes a case for bias.

And just as we discuss/explain with regard to click-bait headlines and “fake news” in modern media, the commercial success of this 19th century newspaper depended on attracting the attention of subscribers to its coverage of current controversies associated with the war.

How might a more niche-oriented newspaper of the time have presented conditions in Civil War prison camps? A search of The Christian Recorder found in Accessible Archives’ African American Newspapers brings up a clip regarding such camps located in Texas. Published in 1865, an article notes that conditions in the Texas camps are better than those at Andersonville, that prisoners had plenty to eat and drink, “but though well treated, our men took every opportunity to gain the liberty for which they naturally yearned”. There is a brief reference to attempts made at tunneling under stockades surrounding both Southern and Northern camps, while one escaped prisoner from a Texas camp writes of the ordinary farm cart used to smuggle out 300 prisoners during a two-week period. The language in this article (relatively contemporaneous with that of the Leslie’s Weekly piece) overall presents a more moderate tone about prisoner treatment without specifying as much detail as the Leslie article. It offers the reader an opportunity to consider or question why that might be the case.

As would have been common in newspapers of the time, neither article carries a byline of the reporter responsible for the account. However, the appearance of such a story in a recognized newspaper publication might mean that the information contained therein would be automatically accepted as both authoritative and accurate.

Why would The Christian Recorders account of prisoner treatment (written a year later than the account appearing in Frank Leslie’s Weekly) express little or no outrage, instead focusing on means of escape? Was it due to the currency of the report? Had the furor over conditions at Andersonville already died down? (Unlikely. Captain Henry Wirz, responsible for prisoner welfare at Andersonville, was tried in a well-publicized military tribunal in 1865 and subsequently hung.) Was the relevance to a Texan population less immediate? Would hostility about the War and associated events linger or would it dissipate over time?

Perhaps not immediately. Among materials in the Accessible Archives’ collection, Reconstruction of Southern States: Pamphlets, we find the name of Andersonville grouped with the casualties buried in Arlington as well as those buried in Gettysburg: “Alas! we cannot give our thanks to the gallant dead. Three hundred thousand torn by shot or shell or bayonet, or destroyed by disease, ‘sleep the sleep that knows no waking’ at Arlington, Andersonville, Gettysburg, and on the soil of a hundred battle-fields.”  Such rhetoric is purposely intended to persuade, perhaps to inflame. Any characterization from Frank Leslie’s Weekly suddenly looks quite mild and reasonable.

Turning to a fourth Accessible Archives collection, American County Histories provides a third perspective on the impact of experiencing the Andersonville prison. Pulling up a page from The History of Centre and Clinton Counties in Pennsylvania, the reader is provided with a succinct description of the loss of one of Pennsylvania’s citizens – William Corbin, captured on picket duty in July of 1863, died at Andersonville, Georgia in August of 1864. Another citizen, Andrew Yeager, captured in May of 1864 similarly died in Andersonville.  In the History of Bedford, Somerset, and Fulton Counties, Pennsylvania (also contained in American County Histories) the reader is faced with this account:

Capts. Binner and Freeman, Lieuts. Beegle and Heppard, and Adjt. Longenecker, less fortunate, were apprehended and returned to captivity. The enlisted men were closely held in that dreadful, ever to be remembered prison-pen, Andersonville, until the latter part of the summer of 1864, when a part of them were taken to Millen, and a few to Savannah, where some were exchanged. With the exception of a few retained at Andersonville, and who were afterward sent north by way of the Mississippi river, nearly all met at Florence, South Carolina, and were exchanged in the spring of 1865, at Wilmington, North Carolina, and sent to Annapolis, Maryland, in ocean transports. In a word, all who survived were exchanged in March, 1865; but before that time, more than half of those captured at Plymouth had died, or in other words had been maltreated and starved to death.

Published in 1884, that record still conveys bitter resentment of those deaths.

Even a short excursion into the many collections contained within Accessible Archives can reveal the parallel between the sensational coverage of the nineteenth century with the sensationalism that fuels “fake news” in the 21st century. The capability for identifying in newspapers – whether those of the 19th century or the 21st century — the currency of the information being published, the relevancy and accuracy of that information, the authority of the sources on which the report relies, and the purpose behind the crafting of its presentation is not a literacy skill to be lightly dismissed.

Every information resource may be used to develop and practice that skill. Accessible Archives offers numerous avenues of approach to train it into a rising population of workers constantly in touch with the flow of information.

Follow Us on Facebook and Twitter

Our Facebook and Twitter pages provide unique forays into the diverse 18th and 19th Century collections at Accessible Archives. Topics range from political discourses of the time, specific events occurring during the Revolutionary War, Civil War, and World War I, social and cultural issues from Godey’s Lady’s Book, the march to Women’s Suffrage, and the growth of America in American County Histories. Antebellum slavery and abolition are staple topics from our African American Newspapers collection.

These unique nuggets of information open up the rare primary source newspapers, periodicals and print collections essential for teaching and researching the history of America. Check out our latest posts and subscribe here:  Facebook at and Twitter at

Frank Leslie’s Weekly, published from 1855 to 1922, was an American illustrated news publication started by publisher and illustrator Frank Leslie. While only 30 copies of the first edition were printed, by 1897 its circulation had grown to an estimated 65,000 copies.

Great News! New MARC Records Are Available!

MARC records are now available for our new collections and more states in American County Histories! These include: African American Newspapers, Part XIII: The Freedmen’s Record and The Negro Business League Herald; America and World War I: American Military Camp Newspapers; and Women’s Suffrage, Part IV: The New Citizen and Western Woman Voter, and Part V: The Remonstrance. The records are provided in two ways – as complete sets and as only new records.

As always, for each set you can download either a zip file that has one file with all MARC records or a zip file that has one file for each collection. The MARC FTP link can be found on your institution’s Accessible Archives Administrators/Account Information Page. The images for all of the content in the new products is now available and can be viewed in the Browse the Archives page. We are adding the XML and re-keyed text for complete searchability of these products monthly!

American County Histories Continues to Grow!

Three More States and the District of Columbia Have Been Completed!
More Being Added Monthly!

Accessible Archives continues to add new content to our acclaimed American County Histories database. The District of Columbia, Florida, Montana, and Nevada are the latest states to be completed in their entirety, with more to come. Stay tuned for monthly content updates.  For more information on Accessible Archives’ American County Histories.

We have also added additional MARC records for the following states: Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Washington, and Wisconsin.

New Open-Access Collection! Reconstruction of Southern States: Pamphlets

The Reconstruction of Southern States: Pamphlets joins our open-access collections. This collection provides unique insights into the Reconstruction Era in American history. Reconstruction encompassed three major initiatives: restoration of the Union, transformation of Southern society, and enactment of progressive legislation favoring the rights of freed slaves.

This collection provides an assortment of representative pamphlets that highlight these initiatives.  They were collected by the Department of State Library and comprise speeches, debates, political statements, legislative bills, and more. These pamphlets range in date from 1865 to 1869 and 1877.

Achieving Higher Customer Satisfaction Is Our Goal at Accessible Archives

“…I remain an appreciative customer of Accessible Archives…” -Jack Robertson, Fiske and Marie Kimball Librarian, Jefferson Library at Monticello

“The resources you have are very helpful! I just wanted to thank you and thought you should know how useful it is as it’s made collecting information a lot easier.” -Debbie Reynolds, Teacher, The After School Center

“Dear Accessible Archives, I am so thrilled that Indiana University has added access to Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly through Accessible Archives. I’ve been waiting for this for years, and I am already eager to begin using this material in my scholarly publications right away.” -Melody Barnett Deusner, Assistant Professor of Art History, Indiana University, Bloomington

New Webinars Are Coming! Stay Tuned!

  • Text and Data Mining: The New Gold Rush – Early June – Explores how text and data mining opens up large and high-quality historical datasets for your users. This webinar will provide an update on how scholars understand content in ways that only computational research makes possible and increases the value of library resources.
  • Using Your Discovery Services – October 3, 2017 – Discovery services have become a critical component within most academic libraries, playing a vital role in the effort to showcase the value of a library’s collection and changing the way resources are searched.  This webinar will be hosted by Sarah Joy Arnold, Instructional Technology Librarian, User Experience Department, UNC Chapel Hill Libraries, and Scott Anderson, Information Systems Librarian, Millersville University. They will provide valuable insights into the various discovery services — how they help researchers discover content that might be otherwise missed while improving a library’s return on investment.
  • What is COUNTER? – Fall 2017 – Accessible Archives recognizes the importance of usage reporting and we have made a commitment to provide COUNTER compliant usage reporting to our subscribers. Working with Scholarly iQ Accessible Archives provides librarians with access to their COUNTER reports through an intuitive web portal as well as a SUSHI web service for harvesting reports from multiple discovery services.

African American Newspapers Collection: The Freedmen’s Record

The Freedmen's RecordProvides a unique look at the issues faced by freed slaves and the efforts to provide opportunities for Freedmen entering American society.

The New England Freedmen’s Aid Society published the Freedmen’s Record in an effort to expose the conditions of Freedmen to the Northern public and promote charitable contributions for use in the Society’s Freedmen’s programs and to fund relief efforts in the postwar South.

Activities included the collection and distribution of food and clothing; monetary support; creating hospitals and temporary camps; the location of family members; collecting text books and building schools; the provision of legal representation; and alerting local and regional governments about various racial confrontations, including discrimination and voter intimidation.

Upcoming Conference Events

Will you be at ALA in Chicago? Lots of new and exciting things are going on at Accessible Archives and we would love to get together and share the news. We’ll be in booth #1713. Let us know and we will make a date!

Find us in the McCormick Center at Booth #1713

Find us in the McCormick Center at Booth #1713

© 2017 Accessible Archives, Inc.

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All images included in blog posts are from either Accessible Archives collections or out of copyright public sources unless otherwise noted. Common sources include the Library of Congress, The Flickr Commons, Wikimedia Commons, and other public archives.

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