SS Archives completes Driftwood digitization

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A 10-year project of the Salt Spring Archives has nearly drawn to conclusion with the complete scanning of more than 3,000 issues of the Gulf Islands Driftwood.

The project, overseen with great patience by archivist Frank Neumann, puts 67 years’ worth of newspapers into an easily accessible and searchable database. With a few notable exceptions the organization soon hopes to fill, the collection bridges every weekly edition from the paper’s inception on March 24, 1960 to Dec. 27, 2017.

The daunting task of scanning and digitally collating so many papers involved running individual pages through a specialized large bed scanner and then the optical character recognition software that transforms photographed images into searchable text.

The prize is now anyone with an internet connection who wants to find a story they remember from 10 or 30 years ago has the tools at their fingertips.

“Frank believes history should be accessible to everyone. It’s been his life’s goal to make Salt Spring history accessible to the public, and now they don’t have to come here to do it,” said Gail Neumann, Frank’s wife and a fellow archives volunteer. “They can access it anywhere in the world.”

Way back in the early issues, this was explicitly the case, as details about islanders’ summer visitors and trips abroad were carefully recorded and published. Birth notices and obituaries often provide helpful clues about lives that were only partly spent on Salt Spring.

The archive’s Driftwood database can be searched by a person’s name or a topic. Advertisement text also comes up in a search.

A warning though: It’s easy to get lost in island history once accessing the articles in question, as one fascinating tidbit invariably leads to another. A random search for “log dump,” for example, ends up uncovering an unintentional gem from Aug. 8, 1979, when the Driftwood advised readers that papers were now available on most local ferries.

Another interesting fact to note is the OCR system is not foolproof, so minor interpretation might sometime be necessary. There is at least one result for photos by “Dank Undy” — or as we usually call him, Derrick Lundy. But there’s no doubt the archived material will be a boon to everyday readers as well as genealogists and other researchers.

Support for equipment over the years has come through the Salt Spring Foundation and the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre. Young Canada Works also provided help in the form of summer students, although Neumann did 90 per cent of the scanning and all the technical work.

Uploading the final nine years of Driftwood issues was easier, however, as digital copies of the pages were available.

The archives are accessible and searchable online at http://www.saltspringarchives.com/driftwood/index.html.

For more on this story, see the Feb. 28, 2018 issue of the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper, or subscribe online.

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