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Bell & Howell Announces ProQuest Historical Newspapers Project and The New York Times as the First Available Digital Backfile
Posted On January 15, 2001
Bell & Howell Information and Learning has announced the launch of its new historical newspaper digitization project and the signing of an agreement with The New York Times Co. to offer The New York Times as its first available backfile. The ProQuest Historical Newspapers project will digitize newspapers dating from the 19th century to the present and will digitally reproduce every issue from cover to cover—not just the news stories and editorials, but also the photos, graphics, and advertisements. The agreement with The New York Times will bring the newspaper's backfile—dating back to its first issue in 1851—to the Web via the ProQuest online information service, which is available by subscription to educational institutions and libraries.

 "ProQuest Historical Newspapers is the first initiative to not only reach back into the past to digitize historical newspaper information, but also to provide that information in full-page-image format, so users can view the information in context as originally published," said Joe Reynolds, president and CEO of Bell & Howell Information and Learning. "It is part of our ongoing effort to provide complete, comprehensive access to information.

Commenting on the significance of the agreement with The New York Times, Reynolds said: "We are deeply honored and enthusiastic to proceed with digitization and electronic distribution of, essentially, the nation's history in journalism. We know that the educational and library markets are excited at the prospect of being able to access what has only been available on microfilm—this information and historical treasure wrapped up in The New York Times. We will continue to bring to market archival products in all formats for scholars, researchers, faculty, and students around the world. We will now be able to offer a complete New York Times in microfilm and online electronic formats."

Martin Nisenholtz, CEO of New York Times Digital, the Internet division of the Times Co., said: "This digitization project promises to increase the availability and accessibility of The New York Times archive to scholars and researchers of all types. In addition, we look forward to enhancing our Web sites by utilizing various elements of the digital archive in a number of different ways."
The New York Times database will cover the years 1851 to 1998—a span not covered by any existing electronic database. Currently, the longest run of The New York Times is offered as searchable full text on LEXIS-NEXIS, which includes material from June 1980 to the present. Dialog and Dow Jones each provide full-text searchable 90-day rolling files, though their customers outside of the U.S. can access the archive back to 1980.

The electronic file will be released on ProQuest in segments covering 10 years each. The digitization is expected to be completed in just 15 months, with monthly releases beginning in March. According to Carolyn Dyer, senior vice president and general manager of the UMI Division of Bell & Howell Information and Learning, users will be able to search by a number of elements, including display and classified ads, obituaries, stock quotes, editorials, front-page placement, headlines and subheads, and photo captions, as well as the standard keywords (author's name, dates, article type, etc.). While Bell & Howell is highlighting the historical benefits of full-page images, searchers will more likely applaud the many additional years of searchable text, especially with the added content availability and access points.

Dyer said that in the first release, the results of a search will retrieve the full article, and that with the second release expected in June, users will also be able to display the full-page image of any page in any issue. The databases will be completely browsable by issue, and the project will digitize some 3.5 million pages in total. Dyer said that scanning from the microfilm of The New York Times would use the maximum resolution feasible, and that pages would be stored as TIF images and be delivered on the fly in Adobe PDF. (Users with slower connections who don't like waiting for PDF files to load may want to limit their browsing.)

In addition, Bell & Howell had previously only been able to offer a current 90-day rolling file of ASCII text of The New York Times on ProQuest. The company now says the service will be able to offer subscriptions to the full text in ASCII format dating from January 1, 1999. This change in coverage is effective immediately.

According to the company, free trials of The New York Times database will be available in March. A demonstration of the database will be available for review soon at Libraries may receive more information by contacting their account representative at 800/521-0600, ext. 3183 or 3452 (outside the U.S., call 011-44-122-321-5512) or Pricing information is not yet available.

According to a Bell & Howell representative, the company is on the verge of announcing another digitization agreement with a major newspaper*, and other announcements are expected over the next several months. The ongoing project will cover hundreds of national, regional, and local newspapers, beginning with U.S. papers and will eventually include newspapers from around the world.

In June 1998, Bell & Howell Information and Learning announced the digitization of millions of documents in its Digital Vault Initiative—including primary source materials and periodicals. To date, several historical databases in English literature, women's history, American periodicals, genealogy, and business, have been introduced. The ProQuest Historical Newspaper project rounds out the original "vision" of the Digital Vault Initiative by offering, for the first time, digitized newspapers.

* Late addition: Bell & Howell and Dow Jones & Co. have announced an agreement to bring the backfile of The Wall Street Journal to the Web as part of the ProQuest Historical Newspapers project. The agreement allows for Bell & Howell to digitize the backfile of this critical business news source—some 1.7 million pages. The historical backfile database will initially cover the years 1889 to 1986—again, a full span of issues currently not covered by any existing electronic database. Access to the ASCII full text of The Wall Street Journal from 1986 to the present has been available via ProQuest and Dow Jones Interactive. Bell & Howell will continue to provide ongoing access to this and to the entire backfile on microfilm.

Paula J. Hane is a freelance writer and editor covering the library and information industries. She was formerly Information Today, Inc.’s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks.

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