A Retiree Digitizes 27 Million Old Newspaper Pages in His Living Room (and Libraries Fight to Catch Up)
A wonderful new web portal for searching the old Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
Last March, I profiled Tom Tryniski, an eccentric retiree who has digitized (so far) about 27 million newspaper pages working alone in his living room and has made them free for anyone to search. (Click above to watch the video or click here to read the article.) The story offered an example of Tryniski's prowess: In 2003, the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) spent $400,000 digitizing
the first 62 years of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, which was among the most widely read and influential papers in 19th century America. A decade later, the library was still raising money to finish the remaining 52 years of the Daily Eagle's run. In the meantime, Tryniski digitized all 115 years of the paper in about five months working alone.
The BPL has caught up. The entire run of the paper is now digitized and the library just launched a beautiful new portal that makes it easy to search. The BPL Daily Eagle site is far more limited than Tryniski's—he's digitized 639 newspapers including several other Brooklyn titles—but it's quite a bit faster and easier to use.
So how much did the BPL pay to finish the job? Absolutely nothing.
Here's how the deal worked: Newspapers.com, which is a subsidiary of the genealogy-titan Ancestry.com, runs a subscription-based newspaper site that allows users to search nearly 69 million newspaper pages. The company, which has a highly evolved workflow for digitizing microfilm, agreed to complete the Daily Eagle job at no charge and provide the BPL with a free portal. In exchange, Newspapers.com got to include the paper in its own subscription-based site. Patrons of Newspapers.com have the advantage of searching over 3,000 titles (including the Daily Eagle) with just one click; BPL's patrons get to search just the Daily Eagle, but there's no subscription required. If only media companies could come up with such an elegant arrangement for monetizing and giving away the very
Brian Hansen, Newspapers.com's general manager, told me that his team is actively pursuing similar deals with newspaper publishers, historical societies, and regional libraries all over the country. Already, Newpapers.com is doing free digitizing for the Texas' Hood County News, the Kansas Historical Society, and the University of North Carolina. Its competitor, NewspaperArchive.com, has adopted the same strategy; last month, it offered to digitize the Wilson Daily Times (North Carolina) at no cost in exchange for permission to included the paper in its own database.
Libraries and historical societies can also apply for grants through the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP), which is run by the Library of Congress and financed through the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). But working through the NDNP is slow and expensive for taxpayers. The NEH awards come to about $300,000 per title, and as of last year the agency had given away about $22 million for newspaper digization. As I reported in my original story, the NDNP's "high technical standards" drive up costs in ways that don't improve the experiences of researchers. By working with a company liked Newspapers.com, libraries can get their titles online quickly and at no cost. Or they can work with Tryniski, whose site offers users the ability to search more than just one title at a time just like the subscription sites. As long as they don't mind the occassional live stream of squirrels eating corn in Tryniski's backyard. Or the occassional spider walking across the screen with Tryniski's head grafted on top.
Want to know more about your great grandparents? Allegedly, one in seven Americans can trace their ancestry back to Brooklyn. Give the wonderful new Daily Eagle site a whirl.