On 16 October 2014, the Austrian National Library hosted the Austrian Information Day of the Europeana Newspapers Project. The event was structured around the theme of “digitised, historical newspapers as a source” (Die digitalisierte, historische Zeitungen als Quelle) and enabled the participants to examine this source from very different angles.
The programme was tailored to attract end-users coming from backgrounds as diverse as the topics in a newspaper issue itself. Besides attendees from different Austrian universities and university libraries, teachers and students were welcomed at the event as well. Günter Mühlberger of the University of Innsbruck as well as Hans-Jörg Lieder and Clemens Neudecker of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – both institutions are project partners – contributed to the programme. Altogether, 63 people attended the event and gave very positive feedback about the content of the programme as well as about the organisation. Eight presentations were held throughout the Information Day, each highlighting another aspect of newspapers digitisation.Participants at the Austrian Information Day
The current state of newspaper digitization
Hans-Jörg Lieder of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin not only introduced the Europeana Newspapers Project to the audience, but he also put the project into a wider perspective, examining the current state of newspaper digitisation. His conclusion that the present situation of newspaper digitisation is best illustrated by a photo taken shortly after the start of a marathon proved to be very thought provoking and was widely discussed.
His talk was followed by Christa Müller, head of the Austrian National Library’s digitisation department ‘Abteilung Digitale Services’. She focused on ANNO (AustriaN Newspapers Online), the newspaper portal of the Austrian National Library. About thirteen million newspaper pages are currently available online of which about four million pages are searchable. Christa Müller also delivered insight into the selection process for digitisation and the planned functionalities of ANNO.
Günter Mühlberger of the University of Innsbruck, a technical project partner in Europeana Newspapers, gave an overview of the different stages involved in digitisation projects. While the emphasis was placed on technical aspects – OCR, quality of digital image, metadata – he also touched upon other areas such as the legal situation of historical newspapers or the archiving the digitised material.
Günther Mühlberger provided insight into technical aspects of newspaper digitisation.
Digitised, historical newspapers as a source for historical research
After the coffee break two historians provided insights into their day to day work with digitised, historical newspapers.
Professor Oliver Rathkolb, who heads the Institute of Contemporary History (Institut für Zeitgeschichte) at the University of Vienna, pointed out how the use of ANNO increased the efficiency of his work and enabled him to find unknown material. Similar experiences were reported by Dr Marie-Theres Arnbom, a freelance historian, curator and author. She chose the example of Victor Léon to illustrate how she was able to find details about his life she would have never discovered. Both speakers cooperated with the Austrian National Library to digitise additional material. This shows that the relationship between memory institutions and researchers can be fruitful for both sides. Seeing how digitised material was used in actual research sparked great interest within the audience.
The versatility of digitized, historic newspapers
Lunch was followed by three talks – all diverse in content but oriented on practical aspects.
Clemens Neudecker of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin investigated the problems but also opportunities when using digitized newspapers as a base for research in Digital Humanities. He pointed out that a term such as ‘Big Data’ is also relative. After all, only an estimated four percent of European holdings have been digitised so far.
His talk was followed by Eva Maria Naimer. She shared her experiences of employing digitised newspapers in secondary school teaching – an especially exciting application of the content made available through newspaper portals. The following lively discussion engaged in topics such as if really all content should be made available to students – a topic which has seldom been discussed in connection with newspapers digitization so far. Martin Schaller, who held the last talk at the Information Day, gave an overview of different online newspaper portals, highlighting especially the content browser developed within the project.
Following the last presentation, the audience had the possibility for an in-depth discussion of their questions in three more informal Q&A sessions.
Clemens Neudecker’s talk was centred on digitised newspapers in Digital Humanities
Key messages of the Information Day
The Information Day was well received amongst participants. Especially talks emphasizing the use of digitised newspapers sparked interesting questions and further contemplation. The relevant examples highlighting how this source is actually utilized, not only in historical research but in teaching as well, gave the audience an impression of its versatility. However, newspaper digitisation is only in its beginnings and more work, especially in increasing the results of Optical Character Recognition or introducing Named Entity Recognition, needs to be done. To use Hans-Jörg Lieder’s metaphor mentioned in his talk: The starting shot just faded away, now we need to keep going.
The event was covered in social media, especially on Twitter. Tweets #eurnewsVIE show comments on talks, but some have even taken the discussion further.
Hans-Jörg Lieder using the Marathon metaphor
You can find the links to all the presentations here:
Christa Müller: http://de.slideshare.net/Europeana_Newspapers/enponbinfoday
Günter Mühlberger: http://de.slideshare.net/Europeana_Newspapers/muehlberger-guenter-enponb
Clemens Neudecker: http://de.slideshare.net/Europeana_Newspapers/enponbinfodayneudecker
Eva Maria Naimer: http://de.slideshare.net/Europeana_Newspapers/enponbinfodaynaimer
To try the content browser developed within the project go to: http://www.theeuropeanlibrary.org/tel4/newspapers
Author: Martin Schaller