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The Harsh Realities of Newsprint

Cover Image: Flakes of newsprint fallen from the margins of unbound issues.

Aloha Nūhou Monday!

Did you know that newsprint has an expected lifespan of about 100 years? Most of our Hawaiian language newspapers were printed on this inexpensive, poor-quality paper which becomes increasingly acidic as it is exposed to light and air, causing it to turn discolored and brittle over time. In order to lessen the damage, newsprint requires special care and proper storage. Even then, newsprint is not meant to last forever and will eventually disintegrate. The majority of our nūpepa are well over 100 years old and in varying states of fragility, underscoring the urgency of our project.

At He Aupuni Palapala, the first step of our work is to inventory the condition of each nūpepa page as it exists today. We assess overall stability of the paper and legibility of the text, taking note of any flaws or potential conservation needs. We record details such as wrinkling, creases, folds, discoloration, stains, worn text, inking errors, tears, holes, and missing sections. For bound volumes (yes, many nūpepa were professionally bound by printing companies for families to keep in their homes as books or reference materials), we also note the condition of the binding as well as the size of the gutter. Some of our unbound issues are so fragile, tiny pieces flake off like confetti each time a page is turned. Consequently, our team members have been trained to handle such delicate and invaluable material.

Image: An unbound issue of Ko Hawaii Pae Aina, July 30, 1881, belonging to the Hawaiian language newspaper collection of the Hawaiian Historical Society.

Image: Most Hawaiian language newspapers were printed on newsprint, a medium that deteriorates rapidly, at times resulting in piles of what looks like confetti. Thankfully, no text was lost in this pile of debris.

This post is part of He Aupuni Palapala: Preserving and Digitizing the Hawaiian Language Newspapers, a partnership between Bishop Museum and Awaiaulu with assistance from Kamehameha Schools. Mahalo nui loa to Hawaii Tourism Authority for their support. Learn more about this project here.

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