Titanic – a century of news

Image A few weeks ago I blogged about neglecting the blog because I was working on my first ebook, about the Titanic. I finalised it last week and it’s now in the Amazon store for Kindle, and on iTunes!

The book is a collection of Guardian articles on Titanic, from its inception as the world’s largest ship (rumours first circulated that the White Star line was planning a mammoth liner in 1907), through the excitement of the launch and the tragedy that followed, and on to the present day, with the discovery of the wreck in the 1980s, James Cameron’s 1998 film and the creation of the Titanic ‘brand’.

The most moving pieces I found were firsthand accounts of the disaster from survivors, given to journalists on their arrival in New York and to the official inquiry that followed the tragedy.

Titanic is obviously the story of the moment, with the 100th anniversary of the sinking looming this weekend, and the ebook has reached #33 on Kindle’s world history list (yay!). The From the archive blogpost I wrote in conjunction has been shared more than 76,000 times on Facebook.

You can read more on the From the archive blog (Titanic – a maiden voyage that ended in tragedy) or, you know, download the ebook! It’s only £2.56…

Marilyn Johnson, Brewster Kahle and the risks of leaping into digital with both feet

I’ve been out of the loop for a couple of weeks, camping in the not-quite-wilds of Northumberland. It’s strange being so disconnected from the web (I didn’t even have mobile reception for a lot of the time); it’s made me realise how much I rely on the internet to stay connected, to people, to the news, to the industry.

Having time away also meant I finished reading This Book Is Overdue! How Librarians And Cybrarians Can Save Us All, by Marilyn Johnson. So even though I had two weeks internet-free, I spent it reading about digital librarians!

Marilyn Johnson’s book, which I’ll review separately, takes on new meaning in light of Seth Godin’s article The future of the library (and apologies if the debate has moved on while I’ve been away!).

Godin’s central argument was that fusty old librarians need to ditch the paper and move into the digital sphere. Johnson’s book provides ample evidence that librarians have been working online for decades (OCLC, the Online Computer Library Center, was founded in 1967, when the web was a mere twinkle in Tim Berners-Lee’s eye).

It also raises the risk of libraries leaping into digital without considering the ramifications for non-digitised, specialised collections, which can have funding and space cut, or be lost entirely.

A similar issue was raised this week by Brewster Kahle on the Internet Archive blog:

A reason to preserve the physical book that has been digitized is that it is the authentic and original version that can be used as a reference in the future. If there is ever a controversy about  the digital version, the original can be examined. A seed bank such as the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is seen as an authoritative and safe version of crops we are growing. Saving physical copies of digitized books might at least be seen in a similar light as an authoritative and safe copy that may be called upon in the future.

I was involved with digitising the Guardian and Observer a few years ago, creating a fantastic online resource of newspaper articles dating back to 1791 that would otherwise not be widely accessible. But we would never have considered scrapping the bound originals, or even the microfilm copies, once digitisation was complete.

Digitising books and library collections is an important step forward, but until a system is designed that is 100% reliable, not open to corruption or human error, and with a long-term shelf life, it would be madness to do away with paper collections altogether.  

Part of the job: On This Day

One of the jobs our department is responsible for is the From the Archive column which runs on the leader page of the Guardian each day. Our basic brief is to find an interesting article that ran on the same date, and edit it down to around 450 words. It doesn’t have to be pure news, or editorial – it can be about anything as long as the writing, the author or the subject are interesting. Recent pieces have covered the films Tootsie and Gandhi (1983), airport virginity tests (1979), sherry parties (1936) and the penny post (1840).

Rather than poring over old copies of the newspaper, we use the digital archive to search for stories, either by browsing specific issues for events we’ve already pinpointed or searching for topics using the advanced search option. It can be frustrating when you can’t find a decent article on a major event, or when you realise your killer piece has already been printed in the column, but you do come across some really fascinating items.

Like the photo, from a March 1950 edition of the Guardian, which is captioned “Various styles of negotiating a barbed wire fence in the English National Youths’ Cross-country Championship at Aylesbury on Saturday”. I don’t have fond memories of cross country running at school, but I don’t think it was ever that extreme.

Cross country running and a barbed wire fence