Editor’s note: This story was updated in late 2018 with new information about NewsBank’s archive service.
Believe it or not, history didn’t begin with the World Wide Web.
It’s beyond understatement to say that the Internet has changed everything about how we look things up these days. R.I.P. printed Ecyclopedia Britannica (1768 - 2012), which “retired in 2012 in favour of its electronic versions,” write its editors on britannica.com.
The 32-volume set’s eventual demise was inevitable. As much as we may nostalgically cherish thumbing through glossy pages, stumbling upon snippets of knowledge we didn’t realize even existed while on our quest, it’s impossible to argue that the print experience is more brutally efficient than Googling, “What was the date when Gavrilo Princip killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand?”
(Google tells you instantly it was June 28, 1914, by the way. Wife Sophie died too.)
Immediate gratification has become the new research norm. But the Web wasn’t invented until 1989, and wasn’t used widely by the public until the mid-1990s. The vast majority of Internet-native content has disappeared over time.
Almost every day, I hear questions from readers about The Kansas City Star’s archives. How can readers gain access to these rich resources — Kansas City’s “first rough draft of history,” as the saying goes?
The answer is complicated. You might want to keep this column for future reference.
Every edition of The Star is photographically microfilmed from actual printed copies. This microfilm is purchased by public and educational libraries and made available to patrons. Many libraries’ microfilm machines allow you to make printouts, too, often at a nominal charge. This archive goes back to the first edition on Sept. 18, 1880.
Microfilm is great fun, as you get the real newspaper experience. But searching through it can be very tedious, and the scrolling gives many people motion sickness. I recommend an over-the-counter nausea pill (no kidding).
I usually advise searchers that if they don’t have exact dates or at least a solid date range, searching microfilm will likely be too difficult. There is no official index to the microfilm, unfortunately, but public librarians can often help with dates.
On the electronic side, The Star’s past is splotchier. You can search back to summer 2013 on KansasCity.com now, and most staff-generated stories will no longer expire there. Wire content has a short shelf life, though.
Stories going back to 1991 are available electronically. You can search them at Kansascity.Newsbank.com Many libraries offer access to this data as well, along with help from skilled librarians.
You can also search all Star content from 1880 - 1990 at that site as well. These records are based on scans of microfilm, and results display as they appeared on the printed page.
As of now, historical photos are not yet available online — but there is a plan to make them available to be searched and sold as prints.
Technology lets The Star preserve the city’s story.