Sunday, April 12, 2009

Papers Past - National Library of New Zealand

Papers Past ( is a digital collection of the National Library of New Zealand that contains more than a million pages of newspapers and periodicals from New Zealand from 1839 to 1920. It is a very well-organized, well-designed, and interesting collection.

Selection Decisions:
The website does not contain an extremely detailed collection policy, but it does give an indication that the Library is focused in its collection development for Papers Past: "National Library curators select new newspaper titles for Papers Past based on a number of factors, such as national and regional significance, the availability of paper or microfilm copies of the newspaper, and ensuring a good range of regions and dates. We do not provide recent material because of copyright restrictions." The collection appears to be actively curated, with the recent addition of another newspaper, The Grey River Argus, in 2007-2008. The website has a good "Introduction" page, and the curators have prepared a detailed description for each newspaper in the collection.

The website does not provide much documentation on its selection of metadata schemes, nor does it display as much of its metadata as many of the other digital library collections we have reviewed this semester. However, the collection's searching and browsing capabilities make it clear that the Library has captured a significant amount of metadata for each newspaper and each individual digital object. Users can search by "exact phrase," "any of your words," and "all of your words," and they can utilize optional filters to narrow results to particular newspapers, dates, or content type (articles, advertisements, or illustration captions). Many of the individual newspaper titles are separately searchable, as well. Users can also choose whether to preview images in the search results. The digital library also utilizes cookies to maintain users search histories on their individual computers. The collection's browsing capabilities are quite extensive, as well. Users can browse (i) by date (a very nice feature, but sometimes you can click through year, month, and date, and end up in a placeholder "This newspaper issue was published but no copy is available."), (ii) by region (a clickable map of New Zealand), and (iii) by newspaper title.

Object Characteristics:
Each of the digital objects in the collection contain citation information that one might expect for newspapers (volume number, issue number, page number, and date), but there is not as much metadata about the objects relating to the digitization of the images themselves, their location in the Library, the scanners used to digitize the objects, etc. The Library has OCR'd each image in the library, so each image is viewable in PDF format or in text format. The website provides a very nice explanation of what OCR is, and provides an estimated OCR accuracy percentage for each digital object. Users have the option to download a printable PDF or a high resolution PNG file for each items, which is also a helpful feature.

Intended Audience:
The website appears to be intended primarily for researchers, particularly those interested in New Zealand history, politics, and culture. The National Library's description of Papers Past notes that, "Researchers of family history and whakapapa (genealogy) will find the shipping news, births, deaths and marriages of interest." The fact that the website can be viewed in English or in Māori, a New Zealand language, also indicates the strong regional audience the site intends to reach.

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