I was intrigued by the news that Google had launched a News Archive search interface. For my first search, I searched on “Banjo Dancing” (a one man show that spent most of the 1980s in Arena Stage‘s Old Vat Room). It was tantalizing to see articles from “way back when” appear. The ‘timeline’ format was very useful way to quickly move through the articles and help focus your search.
Many newspapers that provide online access to their archives charge a per article fee for viewing the full article. You are not charged when you click on the link – but you do get a chance to view some sort of short abstract before paying. The advanced search permits you to limit your results based on their cost – so you can search only for those articles which are free or cost below a specific amount. By modifying my original search to only include free articles I found three, one from 1979, one from 2002 and one which did not yield anything.
So what does this mean for archives? In their FAQ, Google states “If you have a historical archive that you think would be a good fit in News archive search, we would love to hear from you.”. Take a moment and think about that – archives with digitized news content could raise their hand and ask to be included. Google has suddenly put the tools for increasing access in the hands of everyone. The university that has digitized it’s newspapers can suddenly be put on the same level with the New York Times and the Washington Post. There currently does not seem to be a fixed list showing “these are the news sources included in the Google news archive” – but I hope they add one.
In their usual fashion, Google has increased the chance of the serendipitous discovery of information – but because everything in the news archive will come from a vetted source, the quality and reliability of the information found should be far and above your standard web search.