The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis has long been invested in collecting banking data. It started in 1961, when the director of research distributed three charts: The rates of change of the money supply, the money supply plus time deposits, and the money supply plus time deposits plus short-term government securities. The positive feedback the Fed received for these data “variables” spurred an initiative to collect and share research outside of the Federal Reserve system.
Thirty years later, the St. Louis Fed launched FRED (Federal Reserve Economic Data), a dial-up bulletin board. Data available through FRED migrated to the web in 1996, and became really useful in 2002 when it became available in spreadsheet formats.
In 2004, the St. Louis Fed launched an archival service it dubbed FRASER (Federal Reserve Archival System for Economic Research). The objective of FRASER was to digitize and distribute the monetary and economic record of the U.S. economy. In simpler terms, FRASER was started to preserve the stories of banking.
Our company has long been the repository of such stories. Through the years, we’ve literally built office walls out of the many shelves of bound volumes of Northwestern Banker and Commercial West magazines, collections spanning from 1901 to 1988, the year the titles merged to become NorthWestern Financial Review, now BankBeat. With our 2019 acquisition of BankNews Media, we gained similarly expansive collections — bound volumes of Bank News magazines dating from 1936 to 2018, and Mid-Continent Banker stretching from 1926 to 1986.
We’ve always considered the history contained in these bound volumes to be a treasured company asset. They were a “first stop” during any office tour; visitors were delighted to discover their industry “news” spanned the decades. At a glance, the heft of the volumes offered visual clues to the vibrancy of the national economy. Stacked side-by-side, the volumes from the 1920s could stop a car. The volumes from the 1930s were as slim as Depression-era job prospects.
We believe in the importance of recording and sharing stories. It’s one of our values. We also understand (a bit too well) that age takes a toll. Our volumes have been decaying. And as much as we loved having our collection near, we understood that our office wasn’t the right environment for old paper.
For years, our hope had been to find the resources to digitize this collection so it could be shared with others. The Federal Reserve, through FRASER, recently offered us this opportunity. Except for some duplicates, all of our old volumes have been carted off to the St. Louis Fed, where the bindings will be cut, and the pages scanned and converted to fully searchable PDFs. Given the scope of the collection, the process is expected to take years.
Those many volumes of bound magazines have lined the walls of this company for a very long time. Boxing them up left us melancholic the way a farewell to an old friend does. It wasn’t easy to give away a treasured asset. But for the preservation of banking history, it was the right move.