Every week it gets a little bit easier to uncover a bit of history thanks to the Costa Mesa Historical Society’s digitization project.
As part of the project, the society’s vast newspaper collections will be converted into word-searchable computer files.
Some people imagine the allure of researching comes from rummaging through long-hidden stacks of musty newspapers in the hope of discovering an unexplored solution to an unsolved mystery. While there is a touch of romance to this, it’s a very tedious process.
With digitization, by contrast, long stretches of time and multiple publications can be queried simultaneously. Not sure when the Coral Reef restaurant had its grand opening? Run a search and get an answer in minutes.
The digitization project has two major components: newspapers and clippings. Each aspect aids research in its own way.
Newspaper digitization is exactly what it sounds like. Art Goddard and his son Andrew prepare, scan, and process full-paged historic newspapers. Recent accomplishments include digitizing the society’s holdings of the Newport Ensign, the Newport Balboa Press, and the two newspapers produced at SAAAB during and after WWII. They are currently embarking on their most ambitious project yet: scanning 25 years of the Globe Herald from 1936-1961.
Other societies have taken notice. Art reports the Orange County Public Library, and the Tustin and Dana Point Historical Societies expressed interest in the project during June’s OC History Roundup. The society’s methods have also been published in the Society of California Archivists Newsletter.
Much of the society’s newspaper collection has been scanned in the past. However, advances in technology now allow for better, more useful versions to be produced. For example, the society’s older files are browse-only. Most photographs are inked out and hard to interpret. Plus you need to know the exact paper to look for. Altogether, it’s not much different from the old style of researching, except it’s got a little less romance and 100% less mustiness.
The newly digitized files, by contrast, have much more legible text, rich poly-tone imagery, and, critically, the ability to be word-searched.
The clipping digitization project, by contrast, rather than scanning full newspapers, scans individual articles and compiles them into searchable subject files. The society maintains about 137 separate subjects, many of them further subdivided into sub-categories.
The clipping digitization project owes its success to the tireless efforts of three people: Kathy Bequette, who has clipped articles for 10 years, and the mother and son team of Hope and Karl von Herzen, who has pre-processed and scanned the clippings for the past 8 years.
Clipping files have proven to be an invaluable asset for researching articles in this newsletter, for example in recent articles like Fairview Park, Betty Jean Beecher, and Roy E. June. When a topic has already been curated into a clipping file, it’s the fastest way to get all the major facts. You just need to read.
So, yes, one could say these projects have taken some of the romance out of researching, but they also represent an exciting advance that makes research much faster, more thorough, and, one hopes, more accurate.