One computer expert working alone has built a historic newspaper site that’s orders of magnitude bigger and more popular than one created by a federal bureaucracy with millions of dollars to spend. Armed only with a few PCs and a cheap microfilm scanner, Tom Tryniski has played David to the Library of Congress’ Goliath.

Tryniski’s site, which he created in his living room in upstate New York, has grown into one of the largest historic newspaper databases in the world, with 22 million newspaper pages. By contrast, the Library of Congress’ historic newspaper site, Chronicling America, has 5 million newspaper pages on its site while costing taxpayers about $3 per page.[*] In January, visitors to Fultonhistory.com accessed just over 6 million pages while Chronicling America pulled fewer than 3 million views. …

Chronicling America, the Library of Congress site, is financed by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). To date, the NEH has spent just over $22 million on the site. A major reason for the sky-high price tag is that the NEH breaks up the money into tiny grants to individual libraries and historical societies, instead of simply paying the Library of Congress directly to complete the job. So far, the NEH has awarded 72 grants worth about $300,000 each. Each award recipient is responsible for digitizing about 100,000 newspaper pages. The majority of grant recipients hire a company called iArchives, Inc., a subsidiary of Ancestry.com, to do the actual scanning and analysis.