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August 11, 1787 - the Kentucke Gazette made its debut. The four-page weekly was printed in Lexington; an isolated, yet emergent, center of trade and culture that in a short time became known as The Athens of the West. The closest newspaper had been more than 300 miles to the east. Pioneers had no expeditious means of communication with each other and the territory's burgeoning government had no communal voice with its people (the Commonwealth of Kentucky would not become the 15th state until 1792). The Gazette provided a forum in support of statehood and matters of governement. It connected the pioneers to each other. It became the first newspaper west of the Allegheny Mountains. It was the beginning of Kentucky's long and storied newspaper history.

By 1800, newspapers had become plentiful in Kentucky. Most were short lived, but nevertheless impactful in some way, and on April 4, 1826, the state had its first daily in Louisville's Public Advertiser. It, too, was a first west of the Alleghenies.

Kentucky's newspaper proliferation continued until The Civil War. Fighting crushed production, particularly in the South where only 182 weeklies in twelve states reportedly survived the conflict. Although Kentucky was a "border state", its newspapers suffered as if it was an entirely southern domain. In spite of the war's hardships, or perhaps as a result of, the Kentucky Newspaper Association formed in 1869. That same year, the state's newspaper of record, Louisville's Courier-Journal, was formed by the merger of the decades old Daily Journal and Daily Courier. The Courier-Journal is still in print today. By the 1880's, Kentucky was teeming with newspapers once again and the industry ushered in a new century with vigorous style.

Save for a handful of newspapers in Kentucky's largest cities, virtually every Kentucky newspaper was, and still is, a county weekly. With 120 counties, more than any other state its size, Kentucky has amassed over two centuries of newspaper tradition serving six distinct geographic regions; the Eastern Mountain Coal Fields, the Bluegrass, the Knobs Arc, the Mississippi Plateau known as the Pennyrile (Pennyroyal), the Mississippi alluvial plain called the Jackson Purchase, and the Western Coal Fields.

Meaningful affiliations find representation in Kentucky's historic newspapers. Omnibus and Katholischer Glaubensbote gave voice to the many German communities along the Ohio River, just as the Afro-American Mission Herald and the Lexington Standard offered a stage for Kentucky's African Americans. The Kentucky Vindicator heralded the Temperance movement as boldly as Charles Chilton Moore's controversial Blue-grass Blade was "edited by a heathen in the interests of good morals". Political parties of every ilk, labor and union factions, and commercial ventures for advertisement alone have been just as plentiful over the centuries. The content and character of Kentucky's newspapers are as unique and colorful as the people who created them.

For more on newspaper publishing in Kentucky, see Herndon J. Evans' The Newspaper Press in Kentucky (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1976); William H. Perrin' The Pioneer Press of Kentucky (Louisville: 1888) and Dr. Thomas D. Clark' The Rural Press and the New South (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1948) and The Southern Country Editor (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1948).


Over the last 80 years the University of Kentucky Libraries' has amassed a 30,000+ master microfilm reel collection preserving an estimated 1,600 Kentucky newspaper titles. The earliest newspaper microfilming efforts date back to the 1930's. By the 1950s, as part of the Libraries' mission, Kentucky's historian laureate, the late Dr. Thomas D. Clark, and director of Libraries, the late Dr. Lawrence Thompson, together set out to preserve on microfilm as many historic newspapers as could be found. By 1981, UK Libraries was filming an additional 200 current Kentucky newspapers and became an original participant in the United States Newspaper Program (USNP).

Today, the UK Libraries operates a full-service microfilm lab, an increasingly rare commodity in the digital era. With an array of top-performance cameras and duplicating gear, only the highest quality polyester-based silver halide microfilm camera master, print master, and positive microfilms are produced and shipped around the world. See our Microfilm Database for available titles/reels and ordering.


In 1997, UK Libraries was selected by the Kentucky Virtual Library (KYVL) to manage the Kentucky Digital Library (KDL). UK Libraries' Digital Library Services (DLS) administers the KDL technical infrastructure and digitizes historic collections from around the state, as well as UK's Special Collections materials. With the Digital Lab's arsenal of state-of-the-art microfilm and flatbed scanners, copy and studio cameras, and myriad software applications, a variety of notable collections have been digitized over the years such as Sanborn Fire Insurance maps of Kentucky, 149 years and counting of UK's Board of Trustee Meeting Minutes, Herald-Leader and Lafayette Studios Negative collections, a host of paper ephemera, and the ever-growing oral history audio and video interviews from the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History.

Five years after the KDL's launch, federal funding was granted by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) for Beyond the Shelf: Serving Historic Kentuckiana through Virtual Access (BTS). The two-year project made available online over 1000 rare and imperiled Kentuckiana books, providing a resplendent collection whose content is still growing. On the heels of BTS success came the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP) in 2005.


The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) chose UK Libraries as one of only six participant states for the first two-year cycle (2005-2007) of the National Digital Newspaper Program's (NDNP). Phase One, as it was known, produced more than 106,661 digital page images of historic Kentucky newspapers from a single decade, 1900-1910. With over 450 titles to choose from for the period, KY-NDNP digitized 37 Kentucky newspapers representing the six geographic regions of the Commonwealth.

What set Kentucky apart from the other NDNP participants was not the high number of digitized titles, far more than any other awardee during Phase One, but rather that KY-NDNP chose an entirely in-house film-to-digital production methodology. Every digital page image was created on the University of Kentucky campus — from microfilm duplication to the deliverable digital data. It was a time and labor intensive approach that no other awardee dared to try at the time. It proved valuable to the overall development of NDNP in later award cycles. meta | morphosis [the university of kentucky film-to-digital institute], which prepared many future NDNP awardees for the program, was born from this effort.

During Phase Two (2007-2009), 22 of the original 37 titles had remaining content on microfilm. These were retroactively digitized for the expanded date range of 1880-1910 and 18 new titles were added. By the end of the award cycle another 100,946 digital page images from 55 Kentucky newspapers were available in both the Library of Congress' Chronicling America and the KDL.

At the completion of Phase Three (2009-2011), with a date range that included the American Civil War - 1860-1922; KY-NDNP had produced an additional 100,005 pages comprising, in whole or in part, content from 59 titles. The production methodology had also evolved from the in-house operation to a hosted-hybrid production model in cooperation with, iArchives, the newspaper digitization company based in Utah. The production model took advantage of iArchives' technical infrastructure in Utah while KY-NDNP continued the microfilm duplication, image capture, and metadata entry from the University of Kentucky campus. A rousing success, other NDNP awardees have since adopted the hosted-hybrid model of newspaper digitization.

After 8 years in the National Digital Newspaper Program, the Commonwealth of Kentucky's total contribution to Chronicling America spans more than 400,000 pages from 65 titles. Please see Digitized Newspapers for a complete listing of our digitized historic newspaper collections.

For more on NDNP and Kentucky's role in the program, see NDNP and The Kentucky Edition.

Review Kentucky's history timeline from 1900-1910 (NDNP Phase I).


With KY-NDNP leading the charge, the University of Kentucky Libraries' Digital Library Services have developed a digital curation program for historic newspapers. The program relies on several components to increase and enhance the historic newspapers in the Kentucky Digital Library (KDL) including multi-institutional partnerships; nationwide exchange of historic hard-copy newspaper holdings; and a holistic approach to collect, preserve, and provide online access of whole titles.

UK Libraries' is pro-active in its partnering with institutions and individuals in-state and around the nation. By 2009, KY-NDNP had targeted for digitization one million pages of historic newspapers. This included Kentucky's newspaper of record; Louisville's Courier-Journal (CJ); an ongoing digitization collaborative between UK Libraries' and the University of Louisville. The paper offers an estimated 700,000 pages of history, many in color that remain astonishingly rich after a century. With today's technology, a more accurate surrogate of this and many other newspapers can be preserved and accessed in full color in the KDL.

Unfortunately, Chronicling America cannot accommodate newspapers scanned in color. Therefore, the KDL is the only repository for the Courier-Journal and nearly 80 other Kentucky newspapers. Most, but not all, are also in color. These unique KDL titles include several collections made possible through partnerships, such as the Kentucke Gazette - a digitization partnership with the Lexington Public Library (LPL), and Cassius Clay's emancipation newspaper True American, again a collaborative effort with LPL as well as the Wisconsin Historical Society. Also represented is the very rare Afro-American Mission Herald; its conservation and digitization a collaborative effort with Boston's Congregational Library. Finally, the KDL boasts a rare collection of Kentucky's Civil War Era newspapers spanning 1850-1870. These titles are available as part of ASERL's: Civil War and the American South: Primary Source Materials from the Region's Leading Research Libraries.

The exchange of historic hard-copy newspaper holdings began in 2010. Historic newspapers (or in some cases, newspapers on microfilm) are swapped with institutions that have a vested interest in the content. This kind of program is growing in popularity as institutions face storage shortages and demand for digital content. The exchange can reduce storage needs/costs and makes available for preservation and digitization content that otherwise would not be obtainable or, in some cases, known to exist at all. A database for a national exchange is currently under construction.

Finally, a positive consequence of NDNP has been the increased appearance of previously unknown historic newspapers. Digital Library Services is now aggressively collecting and preserving for online access complete title collections. This includes conservation, microfilming, and microfilm-to-digital conversion of the newspapers, all of which can be done in-house at UK Libraries. Letcher County's Mountain Eagle is a prime example of this enterprise currently accessible in KDL. The Mountain Eagle collection will traverse decades; from its beginning in 1907 through today.

Please see Digitized Newspapers for a complete listing of our newspaper collections, or here for more information on our program.

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