Yesterday's Canberra news gets an update for digital age at National Library
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Yesterday's Canberra news gets an update for digital age at National Library

History buffs, genealogists, and Canberra nerds unite; there's 500,000 pages of new but very old holiday reading available thanks to the completion of a National Library project.

The National Library's centenary gift to the capital - the complete digitisation of The Canberra Times from 1926 onwards - was finished this week, which makes the ACT's newspaper one of the only daily papers to be fully available online via the library's Trove database to 1995, and through other databases from 1996 onwards.

The National Library has finished digitising copies of <em>The Canberra Times</em>.

The National Library has finished digitising copies of The Canberra Times.Credit:Katherine Griffiths

Library assistant director-general Cathy Pilgrim, who helped set up the project in 2011, said the digitisation of the paper was a genuine community collaboration, made possible through donations and made better through user corrections and contributions.

The library raised about $180,000 in sponsorships and donations for the Canberra project alone, while the community of Trove users has corrected more than 100 million lines of text where small errors were made by automatic scanning software across the entire database.

<em>The Canberra Times </em>front page for December 18, 1967. The search for missing Prime Minister Harold Holt goes on. The page was one of many now available online via Trove, thanks to the National Library's digitisation project.

The Canberra Times front page for December 18, 1967. The search for missing Prime Minister Harold Holt goes on. The page was one of many now available online via Trove, thanks to the National Library's digitisation project.

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"It's just amazing that people have come on board, and they're improving the text for other users in the community, so it's an amazing crowd-sourcing activity that we've been able to build into Trove," Ms Pilgrim said.

"I think it's a long-lasting legacy for the community as well. Even though we've done the fund-raising and the digitisation in Canberra's centenary year, the impact and the availability of this content for people to use and access as a research tool goes on forever."

Digitising the newspaper has made almost 90 years of Canberra's immediate history fully searchable in a way that hasn't been possible before.

"One of the reasons we started to digitise newspapers is because it's a difficult format to work with, I think, for researchers," Ms Pilgrim said.

"Being able to do keyword searching across the entire content of the newspaper has opened up that content so it's much more findable and usable."

The Trove database to date has been mined for information by family historians and academics, and even advertising and sports results have been put to use in studies or by communities, such as an international online group of knitters named Ravelry which has scoured Trove's old newspapers for historic knitting patterns.

Ms Pilgrim said the complete digitisation of The Canberra Times across 481,875 pages - including 2,225,323 articles, 650,607 ads and 22,511 family notices - meant the first draft of the city's history had now become a genuine chronicle of historical events easily accessible by anyone, anywhere.

"[It's] so transient, the news and the format. A newspaper, the day after it was published, is tossed away because life has moved on, the world has moved on," she said.

"So it's only through the collections of libraries and universities, and now being able to digitise, that we can bring that knowledge of the history and the past back again."