Friday, September 12, 2008

Australian Newspapers Beta

The National Libraries of Australia recently launched Australian Newspapers in a beta version. The project aims to digitise more than a dozen major newspapers from Australian capital cities, ranging in date from 1803 to 1954. Although the project is in a very early stage with limited coverage so far it will prove a significant resource for the study of Australian literature.

I conducted several searches on authors I am familiar with from my own research to see what sort of new information emerged. I'm particularly interested in Vance Palmer because of his dual role as a 'man of letters' and as a writer of popular fiction. Not only do you find reports of his radio addresses from the 1940s in the Canberra Times, but a number of serial versions of his early novels are also found in the Argus. The latter is particularly important because until now they had escaped the notice of AustLit indexers. For research on working writers, literary criticism, book news, readers and reading, Australian Newspapers is and will be an important resource.

The digitised images are quite clear and searches take you directly to the article in which key words appear. The text has been passed through an OCR process, but the results are generally quite poor. To address this shortcoming Australian Newspapers invites (and enables) users to make corrections to the full text. While this will never bring the full text to perfection, I imagine that well researched authors and topics will result in cleaner texts.

The coverage of Australian Newspapers is very patchy at the moment, but as more and more newspaper issues are added to the database, search results will become richer and researchers will get a better idea of the complex networks of Australia's literary culture and the extent to which working authors spread their work across the nation.

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