Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sorry for the months-long hiatus. I've taken on a few too many projects these days and blogging has fallen close to the bottom of the pile, along with cooking and bathing. (ha?)

I'll try to make it up to you, my legion of loyal viewers, by showing you an incredible resource, just recently released.

For those of you not constantly immersed in the research and library worlds, folks in this field have been doing a lot of soul-searching for the past decade or so as more and more information is accumulated and transferred to digital formats. Ideas abound about what this means for the preservation and accessibility of information for present and future researchers, and what this means for the future of other, non-digital formats.
I'm not properly prepared to enter this discussion, it's really messy and scary. I'll just say that libraries everywhere have had to reassess what their core purposes are, and how they can best keep up with this wave of change.

This all hit close to home recently when I was doing a random Google search and I turned up a few unexpected hits. A little exploration revealed that Google had digitized and indexed the complete catalogue of Spartanburg Herald-Journals from 1875 to the present. The effect this has on local history research can't be overstated. A little trial and error has shown that the index is far from perfect. The OCR read missed a ton of keywords, and issues are missing, but it doesn't matter. This is a gigantic new resource for local researchers and the most locally-significant digitization effort since Ancestry.com finished the U.S. Census records.

But there's another side to this. For over a decade, the library has undertaken its own project to index the Herald-Journal, issue-by-issue, by article subject. Right now the responsibility for this project falls on one person's shoulders, with minimal digital assistance. This is and will still be a significant resource, but it can't be ignored that Google's lightning-fast, loose and inaccurate indexing certainly lessens our projects's impact.

I don't know how long it took Google to do this, but I can imagine that with a bank of automated, high-speed microfilm digitization stations and nearly unlimited memory and processing power, they could have digitized the 1000 or so rolls of microfilm in a few days? A week? Add to that another week for an OCR read, and maybe a few days to make the transition to being online? It's incredible. And to think it's taken over a decade for a far different kind of non-digital effort.

One thing the library still has going for it: you can't print or download the pages from Google, but copies from our set of microfilm cost 20 cents.

1 comment:

Chivous Bradley said...

The digitized Herald-Journal issues are interesting in spite of the shortcomings you mentioned. Are microfilm available at the Chesnee branch or is it necessary to come to the main library downtown? The article on the old Foster Inn and Lancaster mansion in the July 24, 1932 issue was worth the time it took to find it-
not really very long.