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Project Background
     
A CENTURY'S WORTH OF HISTORY
RECLAIMED FROM THE DUST MITES

The initiative for this online archive developed from our experiences as editors of the Bard Observer (the current student newspaper) from 1995 through 1999. During that period, Joe Stanco began to archive the Observer on the Internet for the first time, as HTML pages. Even though the Observer site initially included only a handful of issues, it was exciting to offer current students and graduates convenient access to campus news. We had no intention of compiling an extensive archive until Nate Schwartz stumbled upon a stack of old newspapers in a dusty corner of the library. Inspired by the personalities of the past made vivid in those pages, we began to make plans for a large scale archive project.

With the help of Donald Moore, we formed a detailed proposal. The Alumni/ae Association's Board of Governors, especially Jack Honey, were instrumental to acquiring the resources to catalogue, preserve, and present in a searchable World Wide Web archive all extant Bard student newspapers and newsmagazines.

THE PROCESS

At the outset, we faced many questions. How many student newspapers and magazines were produced over the last century and, of those, how many were preserved in the Library Archive? What is the best method of preserving such documents? How should they be presented?

Initially, nothing was known of the number of documents, save that there were many files and bound editions going back to the turn of the century. Fortunately, Bard Archivist Annys Wilson had carefully filed every issue of the student newspaper since the 1920s; her efforts facilitated our organizational duties in the early stages of the project. To obtain an estimate of the number of existing pages, we spent several weeks collecting information about every published issue. This data was organized into spreadsheets, as part of a compreshensive Archive Catalogue.

When the Archive Catalogue was complete, we had to decide about what archiving method to use. We debated the relative virtues of microfilm versus flatbed scanning with project advisors Jeff Katz, dean of information services and libraries, and Jonathan Becker, dean of studies. Our tests revealed that 400 dpi scans are cheaper, more versatile, and compare favorably to the image quality of microfilm. For these reasons, we settled upon the scanning method. The scanning work was subcontracted to Universal Imaging Solutions in New York City. The firm scanned all the pages as Level 4 TIFF files and burned the scanned images onto CDs. The original materials were returned to the Stevenson Library Archive, where they were filed according to the structure of the Archive Catalogue.

While the documents were scanned, the team moved forward with the entry of nearly 50,000 headlines, subheads, authors' names, and keywords into a MySQL database. This was achieved by means of a PHP-driven web interface for MySQL. In addition to the web interface, Joe Stanco also custom-designed a search engine to index and search all of the keywords in the database. Nate Schwartz worked with several students in the PHP data-entry and PDF creation processes. The PDF files were then linked with the issue content summaries in the database. Briefly summarized, these processes sound simple. However, it was extremely time consuming to repeat each procedure over one thousand times, for every issue in the archive.

REFLECTIONS

During our production process, we encountered the hundreds of events, movements, and ideas which appeared repeatedly in the newspapers published over the years. We hope that knowledge of these continuities will help archive users bridge their experiences with those of Bardians of other periods, thus seeing themselves as part of a living tradition.

Based on our experience as editors of the Observer, we can confirm that the archive will provide considerable assistance to future writers and editors who wish to bring historical perspective to their writing and editing or to research stories whose backgrounds are rooted in the past century.

We are pleased that this first step in the Archive Project has been taken. Every page is now fully accessible. We expect that the richness of these pages will inspire a range of uses of the materials, including general browsing, specific research, Senior Projects, and historical and cultural studies of the documents. In the future, it is hoped, all members of the Bard community will avail themselves of the opportunity to hear the voices of the past, which are here unlocked for the first time.