I understand the entire New York Times going back to its beginning, is
now available on-line for a modest fee. Some libraries have this for
their patrons free of charge and one can access it from home. The
database includes advertisements and is searchable.
My question about this is _how_ did they manage to get it all on?
Presumably they had some automated scanning process to read in the
microfilm pages and convert them to .PDF text, but considerable human
effort must have been needed to reconcile errors, deal with the random
blocking of articles and ads as they appeared on a page, and the
continuation of articles from one page to another. When you consider
how thick the newspaper is and how long its been published, you see
what a massive task that was. Also the scanning software, reading
from microfilm which is pretty coarse, must have been quite
Anyway, I've used the on-line access and it's quite a powerful and
convenient tool. Sitting at one's own PC is much easier than treking
to a large library and fiddling with microfilm readers. One must
locate the desired dates in an index book, and check separate books
for each year. Then, one must find the proper reels of microfilm.
It's a bit tricky to thread the film through the reader spools and
lens. Last, one must sequentially search for the specific date and
article through the reel. A bit dizzying watching it spin by.
While on the surface it would seem on-line access would surpass
microfilm in every way, microfilm still has a few advantages:
1) On-line searching is very narrow. That is, if you're searching for
articles on the Verrazano Bridge and you spell it wrong -- very easy to
do with that word -- you're seach will come up empty. But in a hard copy
index, as long as you have "Ver" you should find what you want.
Further, while looking in the index book, you might see other entries
of interest which you don't get in an on-line search.
2) You get the article and only the article from on-line. If viewing
the microfilm, you get to see the whole newspaper of the time frame.
Often there are sidebar articles which might be of related interest.
You see how your article appeared in the paper -- as a page one
headline or buried in the classifieds on page 90. You also see the
advertisements of the day. In my research, I've often accidently
stumbled articles of high interest that just happened to be in the
paper in that time span.
3) Sometimes there are alternative resources in the library which you
don't have at home. Yes, going to a major library can be a nuisance
(the ones I use have parking problems). But there are other indexes,
such as the Reader's Guide to Periodicals, and other publications
available only on microfilm, such as Newsweek and Business Week, that
may be necessary to round out your research. The New York Times is a
newspaper of record and a good resource, but it is by no means the
final authority on any subject and a good researcher will check
alternative sources as well.
4) Microfilm access is usually free; unless your library pays for the
service, on-line research has a fee.
[public replies, please]
[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: There are good rationales for both
microfilm and online records. What I understand about the New York
Times project (and the Chicago Tribune, which began in 1847) is that
many of the very old pages are done in .pdf style or something similar
to .jpg , that is instead of scanning all those old articles, they are
taking a _photograph_ of the page and putting that photographic
image on the computer. That would seem to be an easier way of handling
it. Chicago Tribune started with miicrofilm of every page of every
back issue from 1871 forward; between 1847 and October, 1871 they have
a scattered selection of back issues (those that were not lost in the
Great Fire). By using the .pdf and-or .jpg format, reasearchers get
the context of the articles and the advertisements on the pages, etc.
One thing I have noticed about New York Times in recent months is how
you can have all you want _at no charge_ through their several RSS
feeds and news wires. I put a hundred or more articles each day on
the page http://telecom-digest.org/td-extra/nytimes.html, which are
available with no registration or login requirements. Just go to that
URL and spend the day reading their stuff as desired. I have the top
20-25 news items each day from several news categories with their