Humans (not robots) digitize newspapers

Here at the library’s Digital Commons team, we are building a digital version of The Gatepost student newspaper collection. (The print version lives in our Archives and Special Collections, as always.)

Doesn’t Google do that?

No. Actually, humans put newspapers on the internet. Sure, we use computers and cameras, and lots of software tools. But overall, the process of digitization is more manual than automatic. It involves a lot of planning and prioritizing as a team.

Human eyeballs, hands, and good judgement are required every step of the way.

Essentially, we are stitching together searchable PDF documents of each issue from hundreds of scanned images, organizing them, adding background information, and finally serving documents up on the internet, such that Google can crawl and index them, and users can find what they want.

We will publish the finished product on our repository website, DigitalCommons@Framingham, so that anyone can search the FSU student newspaper back issues for names and events of the past. We plan to roll out a decade or two of the paper at a time: the Thirties, the Forties, etc. For each volume, we will highlight some notable campus events, personalities, or artwork on the website so that the high points don’t get lost among the dozens of issues.

 

What’s the benefit of digitizing newspapers?

We can never quite anticipate who might find our treasures useful, but we believe that open access to our collections will enrich intellectual and artistic work of the future. It’s vital for us to share the collection to anyone with an internet connection and an interest in the content.  I hope that the digital newspaper archives will be valuable to all sorts of users.

Possible users of the collection:

  • Explorers of the history of journalism, teacher education, and 20th century collegiate life
  • Nostalgia-seekers
  • Current campus group officers who want to read up on the group’s past adventures, successes, and follies
  • Genealogists and descendants of Framingham community members

 

We look forward to sharing our history with you! We will keep you updated with more Gatepost digitization news as it happens.

 

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Remembering Challenger: 30 Years (and 73 Seconds) Later – The Christa McAuliffe Collection at Framingham State University

In 1984, when Ronald Regan announced that the first citizen to go to space would be “one of America’s finest: a teacher,” Christa McAuliffe was teaching social studies at Concord High School. She was one of the 11,500 applicants reviewed by NASA, but after rigorous tests and examinations, she was chosen to be the first teacher to fly into space.

On her application to NASA Christa wrote, “I watched the Space Age begin and I would like to participate.” With a teacher making the journey into space, NASA hoped to revive public interest in the space program, an interest that had never faded from Christa’s own thoughts. Space-bound and ready to teach the first lessons from the skies, Christa was an example for teachers, children, and hopeful dreamers all across the United States.

Christa’s passion continues to be an inspiration to incoming students at FSU, not only those attending the University, many with the hope of becoming teachers in the future, but also the visitors who stop by to experience the possibilities of space travel and the thrills of science at the Christa McAuliffe Center

Here at Framingham State University, the Christa McAuliffe collection in the Archives and Special Collections, donated by Christa’s mother, Grace Corrigan, also remains a great source of motivation for students and researchers.

The majority of the collection features photographs and a large number of personal letters; many of these letters were written to the family of Christa McAuliffe with thoughts of sympathy and concern following the 1986 Space Challenger tragedy. The collection also features information collected from the McAuliffe center regarding the work they have been conducting for the past 21 years.

A few other letters amongst the collection were written by Christa herself; in one such letter, a young Christa writes about a visit to the Boston Museum of Science. The highlight of this trip involved a show at the planetarium; as the lights went off, “suddenly the stars and the moon came out.” With her eyes turned skyward, Christa was ready for adventures in space.

The McAuliffe Center, dedicated to keeping Christa’s memory and goals alive, as well as the collection here at FSU, reveal the immediate and lasting impact of Christa’s passionate dedication to teaching and lifelong learning. As we commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Space Challenger disaster this week, and celebrate Christa’s personal goals driven by her own message that “we all have to dream,” we learn by her example that there are greater possibilities made by taking risks and looking forward.

Written by Rebecca Waitt
English Intern 2016

 

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The Creation of the Challenger Collection, Pt. 1

This is the first of a three part series describing the creation of the Challenger collection, a project to digitize and make available primary source materials related to the Space Shuttle Challenger and the disaster that occurred on January 28, 1986.

The collection can be accessed here.

 

The process of creating any collection begins with curation.  In the case of the Challenger collection most of the heavy lifting had been done for us already.  Because Christa McAuliffe is an alumna of Framingham State our archives and special collections departments have a trove of primary source materials relating to many aspects of her life.  Our goal is to create a collection that focuses specifically on the Challenger disaster and the lives of the astronauts involved.  We are in a fortunate position to have the physical materials concerning Christa already processed and cataloged.  Our first step was to select which material we planned to digitize for inclusion in our collection.

We combed through the hundreds of photographs in the library’s collection, selecting 53 images appropriate for our project.  We eliminated photographs for a number of reasons, such as poor quality or the inclusion of a visually similar image.  We also eliminated photographs due to ethical considerations; for example, we did not think it appropriate to include images of the explosion itself, or of the wreckage salvaged during the recovery process.

In addition to photographs we also have a large collection of ephemera related to Christa’s training and the launch.  We’ve chosen to include parking passes, press kits, personal guest lists, as well as three personal letters written by Christa while she was training at the Johnson Space Center.  The selection process for these materials was straightforward as most of the items pertained directly to the launch.  We selected only the letters Christa wrote while training.

The final items we’ve chosen to include in the collection are two congressional reports written about the Challenger.  The first report was published by the Senate Committee on Science and Technology on June 9, 1986 and is commonly referred to as the Rogers Commission Report.  The second report, Investigation of the Challenger Accident was published by the House of Representatives on October 26, 1986, and is a detailed investigation into the cause of the accident.  As both of these reports were published by the U.S. government they are in the public domain.

With the items for the collection selected we turned to the process of digitization.

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The Creation of the Challenger Collection, Pt. 2

This is the second of a three part series describing the creation of the Challenger collection, a project to digitize and make available primary source materials related to the Space Shuttle Challenger and the disaster that occurred on January 28, 1986.

The collection can be accessed here.

 

Once the items were selected for the collection our attention turned to the digitization process.  Because we had selected such disparate material we had to adopt a number of different strategies to ensure the items were digitized properly.

The most straight-forward items to digitize were the photographs.  They fit neatly on our scanner and transferred well to the electronic medium.  Scanners are in essence made for digitizing photographs, so the process presented few problems.  We chose to scan the photographs at the highest resolution our scanner allows.  This gave us the most freedom to manipulate the image if need be, with the trade-off of increased file size.  Since our collection is relatively small the larger file size was not a problem.  The letters and other more or less standard textual material (press-kits and applications) were similarly easy to digitize.  We chose to render these items at a slightly lower resolution as we saw no significant difference in quality between highest and medium resolutions.  Again the scanner was essentially made for these types of items.

The ephemera — that is, those items which did not readily fit into any other category — were slightly more difficult to digitize.  One item — a bright orange parking pass meant to be left on the dashboard of a vehicle parking at the launch site — was larger than a standard 8” x 11” sheet of paper.  It took a few tries to get the coloring to render faithfully for the digitized version.  Other items underwent a similar trial-and-error process before we were satisfied with the result.

The item that gave the most trouble was a governmental report.  It was a 438 page book that could not be pressed flat enough to be scanned on the flatbed scanner we’d used for the photographs and other items.  In order scan the report we had to use a standing scanner.  The book was laid flat and the scanner lens was positioned over it in such a way as to capture the page as a JPEG.  The page was turned and the next page captured.  In order to save time — and so the book could remain roughly in the same place — the odd pages were scanned first.  The book was then flipped and the even pages were scanned starting at the back of the book.  The pages were then converted to PDFs and oddities — such as a slightly rotated page — were corrected.  A few pages required rescanning.  Once all pages were acceptable they were combined in the correct order into a single file.

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Open Access II: Consider a Move to Open Course Content

By Justin Daras

As a faculty member, it is likely that the cost of textbooks is on your mind when planning your next class. However, the prices students are paying may be higher than you think—leading to academic disengagement and potentially poor learning outcomes.

Inside Higher Ed reported on a 2014 poll that found that 65% of students have forgone purchasing a textbook due to price, and 94% of them “were concerned that their grade would suffer because of it.”[1]

Another 48 percent of students said the cost of textbooks affected how many and which classes they took each semester. At the same time, 82 percent of students said free online access to a textbook (with the option of buying a hard copy) would help them do “significantly better” in a course.[2]

One estimate puts the increase in textbook prices between the years 1978–2014 at 945%, outpacing both the Consumer Price Index (262%), and the cost of medical care (604%) during the same period.[3] In 2014, the Wall Street Journal published an estimate that students “typically [spend] between $600 to $1,200 a year” on textbooks.[4]  The College Board’s Average Estimated Undergraduate Budgets for 2015-2016 puts the total cost of books and supplies for students in public colleges at $1,298 for the entire academic year,[5] suggesting that textbook prices are not going down any time soon.

At this point, you might be asking yourself “What can I do?” At the individual level, faculty have few levers to pull with publishers. You cannot prevent them from revising even the most basic texts every year or two; from including single-use electronic content that hinders the reusability of texts; or from simply raising prices yearly at a rate that students are forced to fold into their student loans, and end up paying off over 10 years. The best signal faculty can send to textbook publishers is to stop expecting students to buy textbooks in the first place.

Two major efforts are working to bypass the financial barriers posed by the reliance on commercial textbooks for course content. First, there is the open textbook movement, now sometimes referred to as Open Textbooks 2.0. Open textbooks once had a reputation of being the projects of individual authors, tailored to specific institutions, and even classes—making appropriation time-consuming for faculty hoping for an overlap between the books and their own syllabi.

The contemporary model of open textbooks is collaborative, peer reviewed, and designed to directly substitute for the commercial textbooks traditionally assigned by instructors. Both OpenStax College and The Open Textbook Library are sources of the open textbooks many faculty are using in their classes today. There is significant academic leadership and funding behind these efforts. For example, OpenStax is a product of Rice University, and is funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Open Textbook library is a network of universities and libraries that includes the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Temple University.

Second, faculty should be aware of Open Educational Resources (OER), which are freely available digital course content. Open educational resources include OpenStax CNX (Rice University), OER Commons, and Merlot (peer-reviewed). These OER collections include individual webpages, learning exercises, interactive mini-sessions and simulations, and even full university courses from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. All are free to use for students and teachers.

As the curator of the university’s physical and digital collections, the Henry Whittemore Library is uniquely suited to helping faculty and departments:

  • Search for and evaluate open textbooks and OER
  • Examine the library’s digital and print collections and integrate them into Blackboard and reserves/e-reserves collections
  • Work with faculty who want to develop their own open textbooks

Commercial textbooks will likely always exist, and publishers can bring to bear a lot of resources to develop content suitable for the university classroom. But, at what price? Open educational content, written by faculty, and peer-reviewed by faculty, puts subject material into your hands to use as you see fit—and into students’ hands without regard to their ability to pay. Open educational content may not be a fit for the course you are designing today, but it can be next semester.

[1] https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/01/28/textbook-prices-still-crippling-students-report-says

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://www.aei.org/publication/the-new-era-of-the-400-college-textbook-which-is-part-of-the-unsustainable-higher-education-bubble/ Cited in: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/08/04/era-400-college-textbook-affordability-initiatives-take-utilitarian-approach

[4] http://www.wsj.com/articles/a-tough-lesson-for-college-textbook-publishers-1409182139

[5] http://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-tables/average-estimated-undergraduate-budgets-2015-16

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Good luck on your finals and papers!

The library wishes you the best and if you need our assistance please do not hesitate to ask what we can do to help you succeed.

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Open Access

By Justin Daras, Reference Librarian

Imagine if every student could write a paper on the topic of their choice, and every faculty member could develop new courses and conduct research, never having to worry if the library had full-text access to articles on any topic? What if traditionally marginalized fields like LGBTQ, Women’s, and Latino & Latina Studies—to name a few examples—could expand the scope of their scholarship by reaching broader audiences, increasing their citation impacts, and eliminating the costs of providing access to their subject-specific journals?

This is not a far-fetched fantasy about making the cost of scholarly journals affordable. It is about engaging with a movement called Open Access (OA) that could make these scenarios real by making journal articles free to access. Walt Crawford, in his report “Open Access: What You Need to Know” (2011), defines OA as literature that is “available online to be read for free by anyone, anytime, anywhere—as long as they have Internet access.” This does not mean authors are not compensated for their work or copyrights are violated. Open Access means that scholars remove financial barriers for readers by publishing in journals that make articles free for anyone to access. Open Access allows the same peer-reviewed process employed by many pay-to-access journals—so the academic record can continue, as rigorous as it is now, but for everyone to read.

Traditionally, authors, such as Framingham State’s professors, conduct research that they may or may not be paid to do (funded vs. unfunded research). Authors then write scholarly articles examining their work, and submit them to journals that conduct peer-review. The peer-review is also typically done by other scholars for free. The journals then process, promote, and publish the articles, and then libraries pay to access the journals. The cost of subscribing to these journals is the reason why when you search our library’s databases, you cannot get full-text access to every article. We simply cannot afford to pay for everything. No one does, not even Harvard or MIT. And this is why OA is such an important idea.

There are barriers to transitioning to OA that students should know about. First, academic inertia puts pressure on scholars to publish in certain high impact non-OA journals in order to qualify for tenure—publish or perish. Second, there is sometimes a perception that because OA journals are free, they may be less desirable than pay-to-access journals—a paradox of value. Third, as OA is a relatively new movement, there may not be a journal specific enough for a given subject area—a catch-22.

We encourage students to educate themselves on OA, and how it affects their ability to study and make the university a diverse and academically challenging place to be. The library publishes a research guide on Open Access that covers many resources. The Right to Research Coalition website also includes information for students, student government, and professors. We urge Framingham State students, faculty, and administration to make Open Access a priority on campus.

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