Alberta Street News preserved for future generations

· The Pulse
By Andy Trussler
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Back issues of Alberta Street News and its predecessor, Edmonton Street News, have been digitally preserved, ensuring the history of a newspaper born to give a voice and income to marginalized people will live on.

The publication, born in 2003, features writing by people experiencing poverty or homelessness. Vendors in Edmonton and Calgary purchase papers at 50 cents a copy, then ask people to pay that plus a donation.

Founder, editor, and designer Linda Dumont has been the passionate driving force behind the street paper since its very first day.

"It gives people who are marginalized an opportunity to earn the money that they need," Dumont said. "Because what people need most is money. Not programs, not people telling them how to live, and not people organizing their lives — what they need most is money. If they had enough money, they wouldn't be poor."

Eric Rice, a former volunteer and writer, was the catalyst behind the preservation effort. "Knowing how hard Linda had worked over the years to publish ASN, how easy it was for print publications to disappear if they weren't preserved, and the wealth of stories that ASN contained, I thought it would be worthwhile to help facilitate the preservation," he said.

It was an article in Taproot about the digitization of See Magazine that inspired Rice to reach out to the U of A to preserve ASN.

"The significance of Linda's work lies in the importance of recording and preserving stories about people who are outside the mainstream and who may have nobody to remember them or sustain their memory," Rice said. "On a day-to-day basis, many homeless and marginalized people are passed by and ignored. Their lives deserve some recognition and remembrance."

Three scanned in copies of newspapers from 2005, 2009, and 2011

You can now find back copies of Alberta Street News and Edmonton Street News on Internet Archive, thanks to digitization efforts from the University of Alberta Library. (University of Alberta Library Services/Internet Archive)

Dumont came to Edmonton with her three children in 1989 after leaving an abusive marriage. She started her street ministry, Christ Love Ministry, in 1993 and went on to vend and write for the Bissell Centre's paper. When the paper closed shop, Dumont wanted to keep helping people through writing.

"The paper is more than a paper," Dumont told Taproot. "I have been there to visit vendors in jail, help with funerals, and to give a voice to issues about homelessness and poverty."

Dumont works on a volunteer basis, as do the other writers and contributors, so the profits can go to the vendors. From 2012 to 2014, the paper received a grant while under the Edmonton Street News Society, which covered some costs. These days, Dumont manages the paper without outside assistance.

COVID-19 drastically cut opportunities for in-person sales. Dumont moved the paper entirely online except for the hard copies made for ASN's writers. "It's harder to find places to sell and the economy is so different," she said.

Although COVID-19 restrictions continue fluctuate, ASN made a gradual return back to street sales last fall.

The project was straightforward because of all the work Rice and the team at Alberta Street News did to prepare everything, including listing every issue in an ordered spreadsheet, said Sarah Severson, a librarian with the digital initiatives project.

From there, the papers were transferred to the Internet Archive, a digital partner of the library, out of the Research and Collections Resource Facility. There, technicians use the Scribe to digitize works page-by-page.

While this digitization process took only a few weeks, larger projects like historical theses, textbooks, or postcard collections take much longer. But it's all worth it, said Severson.

"The exciting thing about making more of our historical record digitally accessible is that it opens it up to so many more types of people and research," Severson said. "We can bring materials together from many different sources and people and read them from anywhere in the world."