A goldmine has been excavated here in Athens—not the orange metal that decorates the lairs of the incredibly rich and presidential, trust me, but the rich loam of irreplaceable local history. Thanks to the efforts of UGA’s Digital Library of Georgia project and the hard work of the Athens-Clarke County Library staff, 25 years of Flagpole’s lost archives have been recovered and made available to everybody for free.
We all tend to believe, in spite of our own crashes and losses, that digital is forever, that the digits will remain long after the printed paper has crumbled. Ha. Dream on. In the late ‘90s, while backing up our main computer, our resident technical expert (to remain nameless here) lost the first decade of Flagpole issues. Wiped out. Gone. The UGA library had microfilm, and we had paper copies, but there was no database online and no searchable files anywhere, except thumbing through back issues, looking for something.
Then, around 10 years later, it happened again. Our homemade website turned out to have inadequate protection and got hacked (the Russians?). We had to take it down, and along with it went the archives we had built up since the last catastrophe. Flagpole was lobotomized.
Since that time we have hired various programmers and companies who promised to reestablish our archives, but nobody has been able to deliver—nobody, that is, until the Digital Library of Georgia, hand-in-hand with the Athens-Clarke County Library, swooped in like Superman and Wonder Woman to restore Flagpole’s memory banks.
The library’s Heritage Room staff, with their stalwart interns using a high-speed copier, went through each issue of Flagpole page-by-page and shot digital images from their microfilm. When that laborious part of the project was finally completed, the Digital Library of Georgia over at the UGA libraries, created the searchable database and put it online.
Meanwhile, our own online archives have been rebuilt back through 2013 and are searchable issue by issue on our website, sort of.
You can search the whole Digital Library Flagpole site from 1987 through 2012. Type in R.E.M. and immediately get 181 articles. You can order them oldest to most recent or vice-versa, or you can sort them by relevance, though I’m not sure how relevance is determined. The site is not perfect. It’s sort of clunky, including its url. It’s only in black and white, and it is the digital facsimile of the actual printed newspaper, but it is searchable. I’m still playing around with it and learning how to use it. To search only Flagpole, you’ve got to go into the parameters and choose Flagpole. The Digital Library has a lot more newspapers than just Flagpole—a cornucopia of Georgia journalism preserved—so you’ve got to narrow your search down to Flagpole, but this is a tool to research every Flagpole ever published, between the Digital Library and our own site.
What fun! You can watch as Flagpole progresses through the years from a harum-scarum, slapped-together weekly music rag into a finely-tuned, professionally produced, seriously written harum-scarum weekly music rag.
This database is of inestimable value to people wanting to write about Athens, to explore local history or to relive their youth. It’s all here, a rabbit hole just waiting for you to go down it. Research your favorite band. See what bad stuff we wrote about local politicians. Delve into the history, the music, the people who have made the news during the 25 years from 1987 to 2012 and more recently in our own archives. Flagpole has been at the center of our community life for the last 30 years, and now, thanks to the Digital Library of Georgia, we can all remember where we’ve been.