From student life in the early 1900s to a campus strike after the Kent State shootings in 1970, The Western Front has covered goings-on at Western Washington University for more than a century.
Until recently, people who wanted to read old issues of the student newspaper had to visit Western's library. Now, thanks to donations from several Western graduates, you can read and search the Front online, starting with the inaugural December 1899 issue, called "The Normal Messenger."
Several gaps remain in the digitized collection, which will run through 2009 once finished. The project is about 90 percent complete, said Peter Smith, special collections librarian at Western.
"We didn't work straight from beginning to end," he said. "The parts that aren't done are in the middle."
Donations from 1984 Western graduate Cindy Hacherl, of North Bend, and her husband Don, and from 1971 graduate Bert Halprin, of Washington, D.C., made the digitization possible.
Cindy Hacherl wrote a few stories for the Front while a journalism student before she switched her major to English. A strong supporter of Western's library, she said making the library's collections more accessible makes good sense.
"If you're going to have a really outstanding library, you need to move in that direction," she said. "By supporting the library, you're supporting the most students."
Back issues of the Front have been a strong attraction through the years. Western students often read them for history assignments, with student protests in the '60s an especially popular topic.
"Western was kind of radical," said Tamara Belts, special collections manager at Western.
The Fronts also are popular with genealogists, alumni, staff, and with family members of Western graduates and employees.
A Wisconsin company digitized the Fronts, and Western library staffers enhance the images with detailed information so people can search the pages using names, topics, dates and other keywords.
When the pages were digitized, the text was given preference for clarity. That means the online photographs aren't as clear as the original photos in the newspaper.
"The choice was to make it as readable as possible," Smith said.
Once all of the Fronts are online, the next project will be posting issues of Western's yearbook, the Klipsun. In that case, the many photographs of students and campus scenes will be given digital priority.
"They're very popular with alumni," Smith said.
To see The Western Front collection online, go to library.wwu.edu and click on "Digital Collections."
A public presentation about the Western Front collection will be held noon to 1 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 9, at Village Books, in Fairhaven.
Reach DEAN KAHN at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2291.