“Paper of Record” Disappears, Leaving Historians in the Lurch

The digital archive called “Paper of Record”—a significant repository of old newspapers from around the world—disappeared in late January, leaving many historians without a critical tool for their research.

“The site was simply essential for historians working on the history of Mexico,” according to Richard Salvucci, an economic historian at Trinity University. “We finally had a systematic way of getting at those sources, and now suddenly they are gone.” According to Salvucci, the site provided both scanned copies of historical papers from Mexico and a search engine that allowed historians to keyword search their contents.

The content in the Paper of Record web site was purchased for the Google News Archive search, but, some of the materials could not be posted due to scan quality and permissions issues. A Google employee, responding to questions at the Google News forum, reported that “We’re currently working on the most effective way to search and browse this valuable content. We’re doing our best to find a solution to include as much of the acquired content as possible. While a lot of this content has been made available through Archive search, we’re still refining processes to include incompatible newspaper images in our index. We’re also working with certain publishers to acquire the rights to display their content.”

In light of the complaints of historians and others, Bob Huggins, the founder of Paper of Record, asked Google staff to allow him to “re-start PaperofRecord.com” and received permission to do so. But he reported on the News forum that they will only be able to make it available through “academic portals,” which means researcher will only be able to access the materials “by going to universities, colleges and libraries who subscribe.”

Staff at Google and Huggins did not respond to e-mail requests for comment about the status of the missing materials and when and where they might become available in time for publication. But Dan Clancy, an engineer with Google’s News Archive project, told the National Post: “Of course some people will be disadvantaged in the interim, but we hope that, in the long term everyone will benefit. That’s why we’re doing a detailed analysis on the availability and searchability of content and reaching out to more people.”

In the meantime, Salvucci reported that the work of some historians, who were relying heavily on the database, “has come to a halt. That is what is at stake here.”

Regrettably, this proves yet again Roy Rosenzweig’s warning to the profession six years ago about the “the fragility of evidence in the digital era.” While it may be beyond our capacity to adjust copyright laws and the behavior of large corporations (however well meaning), as a profession we can and perhaps should develop new habits for working with digital materials—by copying down information when we see it online, and not becoming overly dependent on any one data source or having illusions about its permanence.

Update (4/16/09 11:15 pm): According to Bob Huggins from Paper of Record, the revived resource will include all of the content that was taken down, and will be available to “Academic libraries, associations, SABR etc—no personal subscriptions.” He stated that the content will be available “[h]opefully next week.”

Update (4/21/09): At a meeting this morning, Dan Clancy from Google said they now have a complete list of all the newspapers received from Paper of Record, and they hope to publish information about their future status by mid-May.

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  1. Sterling Fluharty

    I have wondered whether we should move newspaper archives into the public domain. Perhaps newspapers would make this concession if Congress allowed them to become non-profits. Newspapers might need this tax-exempt status in order to stay financially afloat during this recession. The current proposals by newspapers to start charging for content will likely backfire because most consumers believe that information deserves to be set free.

  2. Manuel Bautista

    This document is sent on behalf of the Directive Board and Honor Council of the Mexican Economic Association (AMHE, http://www.amhe.org.mx), and may be consulted at http://www.economia.unam.mx/amhe/publi/anuncio113.html. Please let your colleagues know about this situation. You may also post this message in other academic mail lists.

    La Mesa Directiva y el Consejo de Honor de la Asociación Mexicana de Historia
    Económica (AMHE, http://www.amhe.org.mx) difunden este documento, que también puede
    consultarse en http://www.economia.unam.mx/amhe/publi/anuncio113.html. Se
    agradece la difusión que puedan dar entre colegas y a través de listas
    académicas en correo electrónico.


    La Asociación Mexicana de Historia Económica (AMHE) protesta
    enérgicamente porque Google ha impedido el acceso a los periódicos
    mexicanos digitalizados y almacenados en Paper of Record.

    Paper of Record funcionó desde 2004 como un sitio para revisar las
    versiones digitalizadas de distintos acervos hemerográficos. En
    México, Paper of Record recibió los fondos de la Biblioteca y la
    Hemeroteca nacionales digitalizados por la empresa Cold North Wind de
    México (1, 2). Esta empresa fue una filial de Cold North Wind, la
    compañía canadiense editora de Paper of Record, establecida en
    conjunto con Carlos Álvarez del Castillo Gregory, dueño del periódico
    tapatío “El Informador”. El proceso fue similar en países como Estados
    Unidos y Canadá, de tal modo que Paper of Record se convirtió en un
    vasto repositorio digital de periódicos antiguos.

    Con más de 490 títulos, Paper of Record se volvió una referencia
    indispensable y de extraordinaria utilidad para la investigación en
    historia y humanidades. Paper of Record fue el portal electrónico más
    grande de periódicos históricos en lenguaje español, cubriendo tres
    siglos y más de 20 millones de páginas de noticias.

    Paper of Record firmó un convenio con Google en 2006, por el cual
    recibió financiamiento para continuar digitalizando periódicos
    antiguos. Sin embargo, desde mediados de enero de 2008, Google impidió
    el acceso a los acervos de información de Paper of Record (3). Cada
    vez que se intenta acceder al sitio de Paper of Record
    (http://www.paperofrecord.com), el usuario termina en el incompleto
    proyecto hemerográfico de Google News
    (http://news.google.com/archivesearch). El resultado es que no se
    puede entrar a los periódicos mexicanos, por más que se manipulen los
    términos o las configuraciones de búsqueda.

    Así, Google ha impedido la difusión de numerosos periódicos mexicanos
    del siglo XIX y XX. Esta acción atenta contra la investigación
    histórica y documental sobre México. Algunos de los periódicos que ya
    no se pueden consultar son: El Monitor Republicano, El Siglo Diez y
    Nueve, El Economista Mexicano, etc.

    Por lo antes expuesto, la Mesa Directiva de la AMHE:
    DIFUNDE la información hasta ahora disponible sobre el problema.
    PROTESTA y EXHORTA a Google a que restablezca el acceso a Paper of
    Record, por considerar que este sitio se convirtió en una fuente
    imprescindible para la realización de investigaciones históricas de
    importancia sobre México y América del Norte.
    INVITA a organizaciones como el Comité Mexicano de Ciencias Históricas
    y a redes como H-México, a sumarse a la protesta.

    Mesa Directiva y Consejo de Honor de la Asociación Mexicana de
    Historia Económica, A. C.
    México, D. F., 13 de abril de 2009

    (1) Rosa María Chavarría, “Crearán hemeroteca digital de México”,
    Gaceta UNAM, 17 de junio de 2002, p. 27, en
    http://www.dgcs.unam.mx/gacetaweb/2002/17jun02.pdf (consultado el 31
    de marzo de 2009).
    (2) UNAM, Convenio de colaboración que celebran por una parte la UNAM
    y por la otra parte Cold North Wind de México, 2002, en
    (consultado el 31 de marzo de 2009).
    (3) Michael McKiernan, “Google transfer slows research: academics”,
    National Post, 30 de marzo de 2009, en
    http://www.nationalpost.com/m/story.html?id=1443151 (consulado el 31
    de marzo de 2009).
    (4) AMHE, “Fuentes y archivos electrónicos para la historia
    económica”, Boletín Asociación Mexicana de Historia Económica, 2004,
    p. 44, en http://www.economia.unam.mx/amhe/boletin/BOLETIN-4.pdf
    (consultado el 31 de marzo de 2009).

  3. Bob Huggins

    Robert—-I’m always available for any questions you or any other members would have for me—Best—Bob Huggins

    Founder Cold North Wind Inc/Paperofrecord.com

  4. Patricia H. Marks

    Google should at least make its list of all newspapers received from Paper of Record available to the general public, searchable, and freely accessible via the internet, so researchers can determine whether or not a trip to an academic library would be worth the time and expense.

  5. Alison Bell

    fyi – the little local papers I was interested in are now up on Google – anyone who has been missing their papers should have a look

  6. Alison Bell

    the little local papers I was interested in lasted about 3 days. they claim copyright issues. On papers over 100 years old … yeah.