Boxes upon boxes of Rochester newspaper history

Boxes upon boxes of Rochester newspaper history
clippings 4

Courtesy of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division

In a back room of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division on the 2nd floor of the Rundel Memorial Building are over 80 boxes and 43 three or four drawer file cabinets stuffed full of newspaper clippings from the Democrat and Chronicle and the now-gone Times-Union dating back to at least 1904.  Although this curated collection ceased adding new material in 2012, the massive historical repository — estimated at between 3 – 7 million items — is a treasure trove for researchers of all stripes, including genealogists tracking down hard to find family information.

The history of the archive and its collection practices over time are not well documented.  We know the collection became steadily accumulated and standardized after the opening of Rundel in 1932, although articles on subjects like aeronautics date from the 1920s and a full paper on the Sibley Building fire is brittle but fully legible.

Based on observed volume, the heyday of the collection was probably the 1950s. All day long, perhaps 3 or 4 librarians, clerks and pages clipped, stamped, stapled and sorted articles, filling bulging envelopes eventually moved to specified boxes and cabinets. Most likely, librarians with research expertise selected articles deemed significant, assigning each to preexisting topics or creating new topics.


Just part of the collection.

In 2012, the last clippings were added to the physical archive. Funding priorities changed as resources were increasingly allocated to digital storage and retrieval of information.  Nonetheless, the accumulated pieces continue to be an invaluable research tool.

For example, while the Democrat and Chronicle archives are now digitalized, searching broad topics inundates users with thousands and thousands of mostly irrelevant data.  Already grouped by subjects and sub-subjects, the clippings collection yields a much more efficient zeroing in on the topic. Furthermore, digitalized searches of the Times-Union are not readily available, saving innumerable hours toiling away on the microfilm reader.

Moreover — as with all archives — the collection yields insights into the social and historical context of the clippers themselves. The bulging and ever increasing palimpsest-like envelopes — up until 2012, of course — reveal the changing values and biases of successive generations of librarians, each deciding what is worth saving.

Since the digitalization of the D & C, I use the collection less frequently. Nonetheless, when returning to some of my old clipping stomping grounds, I learned anew.

My research for Constance Mitchell recalls Malcolm X’s February 1965 visit to Rochester began about ten years ago when writing a Guest Essay for Black History for the D & C. Then, I discovered the chilling headline in which Malcolm essentially predicted his own assassination: “Marked for Death, Says Malcolm X.”

The clipping was still there. Shifting through the mass of articles, I realized how much more I could have added to the article.

Reflecting on the RCSD’s most tumultuous year, 1971 examines the racial disturbances in the RCSD during the year when Rochester attempted mandatory busing.

Upon returning, I found several powerful images overlooked on the first visit.

November 1st, 1984: Ronald Reagan five days before his 49 state landslide. And Jesse Jackson at MCC. And a liberal enclave. describes the simultaneous visits of President Reagan and Jesse Jackson.

And there were the clippings, the ones scanned for me courtesy of Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division on the 2nd floor of the Rundel Memorial Building.


A periodical lover’s dream at the Rundel Memorial Building

Art of the Book and Nighan’s “The Accordion Book of Short Stories” in Harold Hacker Hall

Not letting the Vietnam War be forgotten at the Vietnam Learning Center with Central librarian Steve Nash

Kitty Jospé provides noon nourishment for the mind at Rundel.

Providing hope for the homeless in the back alcove of Rundel Library

On a Cal Ripken signed 1989 glove, prized possessions, and the Rundel Library

On Dante’s bust on Monroe Avenue


Do the troubled spirits of John and Irene walk the Brickyard Trail? Probably not. At the Brighton Library, Matt Bashore unveils the twists and turns of the crime and punishment

A ribbon cutting and the Pages of the Brighton Memorial Library


Rochester boasts one of the largest LGBTQ libraries in the nation.

About The Author

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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