Australian Newspapers Beta

Sydney Gazette

Recently, the National Library of Australia opened up Australian Newspapers Beta to the public, free of charge (though whether free as in speech or free as in beer is unclear). This is part of the Australian Newspapers Digitisation Program and promises to be a fantastic resource. They are digitising newspapers from every state from 1803 (when the first newspaper was published in Australia -- see above) through to 1954 (after which everything is still under copyright). Both images and text are available, and it's very easy to zero in on particular articles of interest, by date, newspaper, category, state or keyword search. Indeed, the interface is very attractive. The articles can be downloaded as JPG or PDF (though whole pages can only be saved as the latter, for some reason). Bearing in mind that this is only a beta, there are some problems. Coverage is very limited (most of the First World War is available, for example, but only the end of the Second), and the OCRing looks pretty dodgy from what I've seen. But this is where it gets clever: users can correct the mistakes made by the OCR software, either anonymously (verifying sapience by way of captcha) or by signing up for an account. They can also leave comments on individual articles or tag them. Well done, that library.

Web 2.0 seems to be something Antipodean institutions are latching onto fast. The NLA is very up-to-date: it also runs Picture Australia, which aggregates a number of image archives and hooks into Flickr. The Powerhouse Museum in Sydney is also a bit of a web 2.0, well, powerhouse. The Australian War Memorial is not quite as advanced, perhaps, but it blogs, and I think there are things happening behind the scenes. And as I've previously noted, New Zealand has long been digitising its newspaper archives, with completely free access. It seems like comparable British institutions aren't embracing web 2.0 in the same way -- the British Library, the British Museum, the Imperial War Museum are all looking pretty staid in comparison. I'd love to be proven wrong though!

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10 thoughts on “Australian Newspapers Beta

  1. That sounds fantastic. I'm particularly impressed by them letting users supply corrections. I got the impression from a survey that I filled in for the PRO that they might be thinking about letting users correct the Documents Online index (and it really does need lots of corrections - especially the WWI medal cards) but so far I don't think any British organization has actually done it. The same survey also had questions relating to users uploading their own digital images, which could be good unless others have to pay to download them.

  2. What a remarkable resource! Getting older materials online like this should be a priority around the world, and I hope this project's reputation will quickly spread.

  3. Post author

    Yes, it's a great thing, and hopefully will inspire other libraries and institutions to follow the same path. I should have noted that of course there are other newspaper (and book) digitisation projects going on around the world, but so many of them are crippled in some way -- either not-free or with annoying limited previews. Which I can understand for things under copyright, but not everything is. Project Gutenberg and Internet Archive are definitely the best of the bunch in this regard.


    Yes, it's a brilliant feature, although given the number of OCR errors I wonder whether there will ever be enough users to correct the text in a reasonable amount of time. On the other hand, OCR software continues to improve and that can be re-applied to the database in future.

    On the question of redistribution of uploaded content, Australian Newspapers has the following in its terms of service:

    Creative Commons Share and Share Alike license. As a user of the Australian Newspapers Service you grant to NLA a non-exclusive license to distribute, copy and preserve your content under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.1 Australia License.

    Which is just what you want to see.

  4. Alan Allport

    Credit where credit's due, though ... the IWM Sound Archive has now digitized most of its on-site holdings, which makes browsing through them much, much easier than it used to be. When I visited as recently as 2005 they were still relying on boxes of clunky cassette tapes.

  5. Thanks for pointing this beta programme out Brett. This will be a great resource.

    And yes, the Powerhouse Musuem is going great guns. There are some very talented and highly skilled people behind that, like Seb Chan their web services manager.

  6. Chris Williams

    I know that TNA are thinking about going along the route of making their index audience-correctable, but they are still thinking about the authority issue.

    That Aussie newspapers site is great, although I could really do with some more Victoria stuff.

  7. Post author

    Yes, like the Hansard project (another excellent British project which I could have mentioned), it seems they are starting off with a limited dataset for testing purposes. Though it all looks very polished for a beta, I have to say! At least the Argus was one of the big newspapers, in its day -- I was looking for an online version a few months ago, though I now can't remember what I wanted it for ...

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