Monday, October 25, 2010

What Happened to Google News Archive Search?

Update: Paul Jeffko of SmallTownPapers (which looks to be worth checking out) points out that Google does have a page listing all of their digitized newspapers. Thanks Paul!

I have been pretty enthusiastic (giddy, really) about Google's project to put historic newspapers from Spokane and other cities online. Though this has been an incredible resource in my local history courses, it was never easy to get to the historic newspapers, with the search function buried several layers down in the advanced menus at Google News.

The, sometime late this summer, Google News was redesigned and the ability to get to the historic newspapers disappeared! The good news is that the newspapers are still online and the search function for them still exists, you just cannot navigate to it from the Google News site. So, dear reader, here you go:

Google News Archive Search - Advanced Options

I have no idea why Google buried the link or what this means for the future of historic newspapers at Google. The official Google News Blog is silent--though maybe if I combed through the About News Archive Search pages I'd find out.  If you have any rumors or speculation, feel free to share them in the comments.

["Auto Carrying Giant Potato..." from the Spokane Daily Chronicle, June 22, 1915 p. 2.]

Monday, October 18, 2010

Cell Phone Tours

Get your phone out to follow along with this post.

I was at the Seattle Art Museum a few months ago and was impressed by the cell phone interpretation they have running through the museum. In an age when museums are going through expensive contortions trying to use technology to improve visitor experiences, I found the cell phone tour a simple and elegant a solution.

The pictures below show a few examples, and the phone numbers are still active. Go ahead and call them as you look at the images. (I was going to download the audio and link it here--but you people need to meet me halfway here!)

This carved argylite box is accompanied by an interview with a modern Indian carver. Call 206-866-3222 ext. 123 to listen.

This 1850 ceremonial headdress of the Tlingit people is enhanced by the creation myth it portrays. Call 206-866-3222 ext. 124.

One more example is this modern glass interpretation of a Killer Whale. Call 206-866-3222 ext. 122.

You can see all of my photos from the SAM here. The museum also put all of the audio up online for free download. I downloaded a bunch of them before I came to the museum, but once I was there i found it far easier to dial the numbers in front of me than to fiddle with iTunes on my phone. A museum friend told me that these phone tours get used even after the exhhibit comes down, apparently from people who are looking at their vacation pictures and dialing the numbers.

So in conclusion--cell tours, yay! Of course museums can make mobile technology far more involved and complicated if they like. This NY Times article surveys some of the mobile apps for iPhones and Androids that museums are beginning to use. What jumps out at me from the article is that none of the apps seem to be very good! And how many of your visitors are carrying smart phones, and will have downloaded your app in advance of their visit? I think around 20% of Americans carry smart phones. And of course there are all kinds of interactive kiosks and other intensive technologies out there, all of which seem expensive, prone to breaking, and quickly outdated. By comparison a cell tour is dirt cheap to produce, leverages a piece of technology that nearly visitor already has, and has a potential reach beyond the museum walls.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Eastern Region Archives, Digital Archives open house set for October 12

OLYMPIA: In honor of Archives Month, the Washington State Archives is offering an open house tour and demonstration of its Cheney facilities on Tuesday, October 12.

The event includes a 2:30 p.m. tour of the State Archives’ Eastern Region Branch conducted by Eastern Regional Branch Archives Assistant Lee Pierce. A demonstration and tour of the Digital Archives will take place at 3:30 p.m. Digital Archivist Kerry Barbour and Assistant Archivist Larry Cebula will demonstrate the Digital Archives’ website, and Network Administrator Harold Stoehr will lead a tour of its state-of-the-art facility.

The ERB Archives holds government records for 11 counties, cities, local government offices, school districts and cemetery boards.

“From attendance records for one-room schools to Spokane Garry’s death certificate to frontier court records, the Eastern Regional Branch has the raw materials of our history,” Pierce said. “There are literally thousands and thousands of historical nuggets for people to uncover.”

Now in its sixth year of operation, the Digital Archives preserves almost 100 million records from Washington state and local governments.

“We’re proud to have the first Digital Archives of any state in the nation,” Barbour said. “We have a goldmine of documents and photos for genealogists, history buffs, researchers, students and anyone else to access and enjoy. Our Digital Archives is a state-of-the-art facility that brings Washington’s past to us literally at our fingertips.”

Some posters of colorful birds-eye maps of Spokane and Port Townsend will be given away as door prizes to a few lucky visitors who come to the Cheney facilities on October 12.

The Eastern Regional Branch Archives and Digital Archives facilities are located at 960 Washington St. in Cheney, on the campus of Eastern Washington University. Both are open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays, excluding state holidays.

The Eastern Regional Branch Archives can be reached at (509) 235-7508 or . Digital Archives can be contacted at (509) 235-7500, ext. 200, or .

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Who Will Save America's Vanishing Songs?

1859 drawing of an phonautograph, the first device capable of recording sound. You can listen to some of the first recorded sounds here. Illustration from Wikimedia Commons.
NPR recently ran an interesting piece, Who Will Save America's Vanishing Songs? The story was inspired by a paper from the Library of Congress' National Recording Preservation Board [huge PDF warning].

Both pieces report that in some ways it is the most recent musical tracks that are the most endangered. "Older recordings actually have better prospects to survive another 150 years than recordings made last week using digital technologies," according t the report. Many smaller bands only release their music digitally, sometimes via a MySpace page or similar site, with no thought to digital preservation. Modern copyright laws have become so restrictive that "Were copyright law followed to the letter . . . it would brand virtually all audio preservation as illegal." And don't even get us started on the multiple digital tracks, alternate versions, and bonus tracks that make up modern music releases.

The report is not optimistic about preserving older media either. "Public institutions, libraries, and archives hold an estimated 46 million recordings," the report tells us, yet "degree programs to train professional audio archivists are nonexistent."

I found the report a discouraging read. Popular music is one of the best sources that we have for getting into the mindset of people in the past. Popular music is an invaluable source for social history and a great teaching tool (see this post on teaching with digitized music from Edison cylinders).

What is to be done? "This study will be followed by publication of a national plan developed on the basis of the recommendations of task forces convened to discuss the findings presented here," we are told. Apparently it cannot happen soon enough.