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Early issues of Prince Rupert Daily News online, plans for complete archive underway

Deputy Librarian Joe Zelweitro and Library Assistant Technical Support Worker Duncan Calder unveiled the Prince Rupert Library’s Digital Newspaper Archives on Friday. A new searchable database on the internet covers the PRince Rupert Daily News from its first issue on May 1, 1911 up until June 30, 1923. - Monica Lamb-Yorski
Deputy Librarian Joe Zelweitro and Library Assistant Technical Support Worker Duncan Calder unveiled the Prince Rupert Library’s Digital Newspaper Archives on Friday. A new searchable database on the internet covers the PRince Rupert Daily News from its first issue on May 1, 1911 up until June 30, 1923.
— image credit: Monica Lamb-Yorski

Last Friday the Prince Rupert Library unveiled its digital newspaper archives, announcing the first 13 years of the Prince Rupert Daily News have been entered into a searchable database.

The project covers the papers from May 1, 1911 to June 30, 1923. According to Deputy Librarian Joe Zelweitro, the installment is the first part of a multi-year project. It is the library’s intention to digitize the entire collection up to the end of July 16 2010 when the Daily News after being sold, was closed down and printed its last issue.

“It will cost many thousands of dollars for the whole project,” said Zelweitro. The cost of the first installment totalled around $25,000, funded by grants from the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre, Industry Canada’s Community Access Program and Friends of the Prince Rupert Library.

Old newspapers are a well-used resource, and up until now were only available at the library on microfilm. It took one hour for the reader to warm up and several hours for people to scan through the films.

Zelweitro boasted the quality of the digitized images is better and easier on the eyes than microfilm.

“Over time the microfilm is damaged through use and when you’re using it you can’t scale up the resolution,” he explained.

Searching is a huge thing too, because data can be searched by name, dates and key words.

Right now the search mechanism is a two-step process, said Library Assistant Technical Support Worker Duncan Calder.

“You do your search and then you have to click on the repository tab to actually search the newspaper,” Calder explained.

Imagine if someone had a relative living in Prince Rupert in the early days, Calder said. “You could enter their name and find every hit, every time they checked into a hotel, had a party, had a baby or got married.”

Each page gives a context of what were the burning issues of the day, with news from around the world and at home.

Already patrons have accessed the database, including a group of researchers from the University of Toronto that were in Prince Rupert last week.

They arrived anticipating they’d spend hours on the microfilm. Instead, they spent a few hours on the computers, knowing they could follow up when they are back in Toronto.

A few other northern communities have digitized their newspapers, including Terrace, Kitimat and Vanderhoof, but Calder said what makes the Prince Rupert project unique is that patrons can view the page online, zoom in, and then decide if they want to download a particular page as a pdf.

“We find it a lot more interactive,” said Calder, admitting that wasn’t an option a few years ago when other libraries embarked on digitization projects.

Prince Rupert has had the advantage of being able to use open source software, which is free, and community developed.

“It’s not proprietary and what makes it good is that anybody can work on it. It has a large group of people from all over the world who add to or change it. It has its issues, it’s not perfect, but it allows for more resources, and allows us to put our money where we want to because there is no annual fee or maintenance costs,” said Zelweitro.

To access the database, users type in www.prnewspaperarchives.ca. By entering the date of the first issue - May 1, 1911 - into the search field, readers will discover that the Daily News was formerly the Prince Rupert Optimist.

And that first issue’s main headline held a typing error, stating “May Day Ushers In An Epidermic Of Strikes”.

Other news items on the first page are the census, a jump in custom receipts, the curing of a local boy from spiral meningitis, a sermon by Rev. F. W. Kerr covered in detail, and a runaway horse team stampede down Third Avenue. Even the overhaul of a local restaurant made the front page.

People wanting a lesson on how to use the new database are encouraged to make an appointment for in depth training with Calder or Zelweitro at the library.

“I’m even hoping to set up some evening workshops for 10 or so people at a time,” said Calder.

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