LoC Has Historic American Newspapers Search in Beta

This one’s been sitting in my queue for a while; I’m glad I’ve finally got the time to review it. I’m not even sure how long it’s been around. But it’s really good. The Library of Congress has launched Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, in beta. The site’s free and available at http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/ .

The site currently has keyword-searchable, scanned newspaper pages from 1880 to 1910 in nine states and the District of Columbia. Why so limited? Because it’s still being added to, and more content will be put in over time. There’s also a huge directory of information on newspapers published in the US from 1690 until today. Let’s look at at that first, then we’ll check out the scanned pages.

The front page has a link to the newspaper directory where you can browse by title, but skip that. Go right to the title search page. There you can do the GOOOOOD stuff: narrow down your search by state, county, or city; narrow it by span of time printed, find papers by ethnicity, frequency, or language, and of course search by keyword. And you’ll need to narrow down your search; just running a plain search for newspapers in New York found over 11000 results. *11000*. Yikes.

Results are listed alphabetically and there’s some data available; not enough, but some. Click on a paper name and you’ll get data like geographic coverage, dates of publication, language, frequency, publisher, etc. How much is available varies a lot; once I saw two papers with the same titles whose details varied slightly, but I didn’t get enough information on either one of them to tell them apart. This is really a jumpoff directory; find information on a paper here and use it to move on to searching richer sources.

The search of the newspaper pages, that’s completely different. It’s terrific! The way the search results are displayed is fantastic. But you’ll have to use the search page first: search by state or paper, by year or date range, and then use keywords which can include phrase or proximity search.

Highlighted keywords in news search results
Highlighted keywords in news search results
Your search results include thumbnails of full newspaper pages! That sounds incredibly unwieldy but the places where your keyword appears are highlighted. When you choose a result you’ll get your page enlarged, again with your keyword highlighted. (I love those highlights — love love love — but I wish they were something besides rose color. Maybe highlighter yellow or nuclear green. If you’re searching for a keyword and it appears only once on a page, you’ll occasionally find yourself in a game of “hunt the highlight.”) You can get the text of the page (though it appears to be machine OCR’d and it looks pretty bad), a PDF, or you can download an image. Best of all, you can use a feature called “Draw Zoom Box,” outline a part of the page you want to enlarge, and immediately you’ll go to that area of the page — with the keyword highlighting intact.

Zooming in on a page and keeping your keywords highlighted.
Zooming in on a page and keeping your keywords highlighted.
I was amazed at how smooth the zooming transition was. This is the most painless scanned-image newspaper searching I’ve done in a long time. In addition there are so many little extras — getting the pages in a variety of formats, several different levels of paper navigation even at the page-level viewing, and best of all, obvious permalinks to individual result pages. This project is going to be terrific. Between this and Wyoming’s project to digitize its newspapers, I may never read news from this century again. MORE PAPERS!