'Prince' to complete digital archives, dating back to 1876
This weekend, as nearly 20,000 University alumni, family members and friends converge on campus for Reunions 2012, The Daily Princetonian also celebrates its past through the completion of the Larry DuPraz Digital Archives: a free, searchable online index of every past issue of the ‘Prince’ from its creation in 1876 through 2002, accessible at http://theprince.princeton.edu. All issues will be loaded by June 30, 2012.
According to University Archivist and Curator of Public Policy Papers Daniel Linke, planning for the project began in 2007 while the digitization process began a year later.
"I've long known that this would be a tremendous resource if we could get it digitized, and since coming to the University in 2002, it had been on my mind on how we might get it done," he said.
For years, the frailty of the hardbound volumes of the ‘Prince’ in the basement of Mudd Library has limited the paper's usefulness as a resource for large research projects. The glue binding the volumes has dissolved, while the paper rips upon turning due to old age and poor quality, a product of economic constraints faced by ‘Prince’ managing boards at the time. Before the creation of the archives, the only way to retrieve past issues of the ‘Prince’ had been to tediously scroll through microfilm.
Linke began to look for funding once the required technology became available at a reasonable cost. After raising $10,000, he went to the Council of the Humanities, which doubled his contribution with a $20,000 grant. The Daily Princetonian Board of Trustees donated $30,000 and then fundraised continuously to advance the digitization project beyond its expected scope; originally, the archive would only contain issues from 1876 to the 1920s.
Richard Thaler ’73, president of the ‘Prince' Board of Trustees and a former business manager of the newspaper, explained that although it was "a difficult economic time to raise money," if the Board had not done it when they did, the paper might have been "lost forever."
"The old historical papers were starting to deteriorate and degrade," he said. "To not do it might have been to risk loss of certain editions." In addition to the Council of the Humanities, he highlighted the history department, Friends of Princeton and roughly 200 alumni as major donors.
Linke has overseen the digitization project since its creation, while two or three students have worked on it during the school year and one student over the summer.
Although Linke's team faced surprise quirks like misnumbered and doubly-numbered pages, the biggest challenge in the digitization process was adjusting to changes in the length of the paper while moving through different time periods.
"We went chronologically, so what happened is that the paper kept getting bigger," Linke said, explaining that the investment in money and time for the project increases along with the number of pages. "In 1876, it was published every other week and was like eight pages. And it was a daily in 1890, but even then it was only four or six pages. Now in a typical issue, you're somewhere around 16."
After organizing the microfilm, Mudd Library sends the film to Brechin Imaging in Canada to photograph the pages. The pages are then sent to a Cambodian company called Digital Divide Data, which uses an optimal character recognition program to allow for keyboard searching. Finally, the hard drive is shipped to the Texas-based New Zealand company DL Consulting, which adds supporting features such as "searching and browsing, online reading and article extraction and printing."
The total cost of digitizing the archives from 1876 to 2002 was roughly $275,000. Linke and Thaler said they hope to raise an additional $7,000 to $10,000 to finish digitizing issues between 2002 and 2012 and then update the archives annually afterward.
Continuing one legacy, building another
The ‘Prince’ Board of Trustees has named the Digital Archives in honor of Larry DuPraz, who served as the production manager for the Prince from 1946 until his retirement in 1987. DuPraz, who passed away in 2006, was known for his curmudgeon teaching style and served as a beloved adviser and mentor to the ‘Prince’ staff after his retirement until his death at age 87.
His son-in-law, John Greely, called the Trustees' dedication a "tremendous honor."
"His whole life was devoted to the town of Princeton and the University ... And especially with all of the damn kids he educated, you know?" Greely said. "He was just an amazing individual, he really was. He always had the students' best interests in mind. He may not have always agreed with them, but it was amazing how all the students would come by for Reunions or stop by and just say ‘Hi’ and send him a letter ... It was really amazing how many lives he touched."
The new digital archives continue the legacy of DuPraz, who enthusiastically kept up with the latest technologies in journalism. He started at the old Princeton Packet as a linotype operator and used molten lead for printing, but in his later years, Greely said, he "jumped right into the computer age and kept going."
"Every time the Princetonian was updating its computers and its cord LANs and that kind of thing, he was just as knowledgeable as everybody else," Greely added.
While the legacy of the Larry DuPraz continues with the creation of the archives, another legacy begins as the archives promise to enrich researchers' understanding of Princeton history.
"This is going to change how Princeton looks at itself," Linke said. "It will really give it a window into the past that we haven't had [before]."
Thaler recounted how upon discovering that the ‘Prince’ once issued scrip in lieu of currency when President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared a bank holiday, the newspaper was able to pull the story from the beta version of the archives and post it on the ‘Prince’ website.
"Researchers are using the 'Prince' like crazy now," Thaler said. "A lot of kids every year write theses on Princeton-related stuff, and the ‘Prince’ is the best source you can get for day-to-day life at Princeton for the last 150 years."
Linke said that researching in the archives allowed him to discover a fun fact: the oldest living alumnus, Malcolm R. Warnock ’25, who will march in Saturday's P-Rade, may be the oldest Princeton alumnus ever.
"Before the Prince project, we would have been, ‘I don't know, maybe?' " Linke said. "But we were able to search the archives and found that there is no evidence that there is anyone older than him."
According to Linke, the creation of the DuPraz Digital Archives set a precedent for other Ivy League universities.
"I talk with my colleagues at other institutions who say, ‘Hey, how did you do this? How much did it cost?' " he said. "We sort of looked to what Harvard and Brown were doing when we started. They had not done anything quite like we have done. But seeing what they did, we said, ‘Oh, we can do better than that,' and now colleagues at other schools are taking note and wanting to emulate us."
Thaler described digitization as "the wave of the future" because of its potential to make documents accessible to everyone and advance scholarship.
"I hope that Princeton alumni, as their reunions [go] on, not only look at the years they were at Princeton, but look at some of the historical stuff too because it is pretty damn interesting," he said.