The Spark of the Kernel of an Idea, and particularly its digitizing of archival issues of The Charlottetown Guardian, is one of my favourite projects of Robertson Library, partly because I find it incredibly useful (especially in the about-to-be-released version that contains many more issues of the newspaper), and partly because the project first took root in a conversation I had with Mark Leggott, University Librarian, back in 1994 (an event memorialized in my Working for Free talk).

As proof-positive that projects like this take a long time to germinate, here’s a post from November 17, 1994 – 19 years ago! – where I asked the readers of the comp.text Usenet group for the lay of the digitization land:

I’m interested in hearing from anyone who knows anything about converting microfilmed archival newspapers and converting them to digital information through some sort of optical character recognition process.

All these years later, thanks to the hard work and dedication of many people who aren’t me, this project has come to fruition, and it will soon be possible to browse almost any historical issue of The Guardian from the comfort of your couch (to say nothing of the myriad research possibilities afforded by the ability to search the archive).

It’s interesting to look at the headers of the original source of that comp.text posting:

Path:!!!!torn! \!!!!not-for-mail
From: (PEI Crafts Council)
Newsgroups: comp.text
Subject: OCR from microfilm: how?
Date: 17 Nov 1994 12:01:42 -0400
Organization: PEINet Inc, Charlottetown, PEI Canada
Lines: 9
Message-ID: <3afup6$>
X-Newsreader: TIN [version 1.2 PL2]

From there we can learn some interesting historical tidbits:

  • My email address at the time was, as the PEI Crafts Council, where I was working, used PEINet’s email service at the time. The machine name “bud” was one I knew well, as it later went on to be the home of the first iterations of the website.
  • Usenet was a “store and forward” network: you sent a message to your local network, which sent it “upstream,” in this case from PEINet to the University of Prince Edward Island, to the University of New Brunswick, to the University of Toronto (torn), to Marquette University in Milwaukee, through and to, a host at an institution that, apparently, no longer exists.
  • I was using the Usenet “newsreader” software called “tin” (which is still around today; indeed you can download an archive of the same version 1.2 PL2 that I was using).