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Digitizing the Arbeiter-Zeitung

The Idea
The main motivation behind the project was to develop a technique for making the contents of historical newspapers easily accessible for users via the Internet while also economically affordable. Therefore the project's focus was rather on usability and economic efficiency than the immaculate and perfect digital preservation of the master material. The project builds on the experience that Kaltenbrunner Medienberatung and scharf_net have gained through similar previous projects and advances their know-how in the field of retro-digital archives. The Institute for Media and Communication Science from the University of Klagenfurt contributed to define user requirements and implement the user-friendly interface.

Digitisation process
In 2001/2002, before the actual start of the project, Kaltenbrunner Medienberatung and scharf_net, over several months, carried out a feasibility study (including interviews and trials). Besides clarifying rights and user expectations, they also checked options for the technical realisation and tested various possibilities for digitising the material.
For the actual digitisation, copies of the original microfilms, which are stored in Berlin, were made, and then digitised. The decision for digitising microfilm versus paper originals was made due to simpler handling and therefore cost reduction, but also protection of the originals was an issue. For digitisation, a resolution of 400 dpi bi-tonal was used and the images were first saved as TIFF. Though a resolution of this quality would not have been necessary for the current archive functions, it will allow future amendments, such as full-text search. Each digitised image needed to be reworked individually, to place it in the right location in the archive and to optimise it for presentation on the Internet, e.g. in terms of date, page numbers, and separation of double pages. All pages are presented in JPG. A compromise between the image quality and loading time for Internet presentation had to be found. For optimised presentation for different user reception modes and monitor sizes, the interface has been developed both in Flash (with zoom possibilities) as well as HTML.
Throughout the whole process expected but yet unknown questions had to be responded to. Even after the very thorough feasibility study that preceded the project, it was obvious that not every aspect of the material could be known before the actual process. The layout of the paper was different in almost every decade, different enclosures and changing pagination had to be considered within the structure of the database, the microfilms varied in their quality concerning exposure or sharpness. By processing more than 40 years in one single attempt, the project delivered reliable and representative knowledge in digitization of newspapers and the archive itself is proof to the successful implementation of this know-how.

Further improvements
With the official presentation of arbeiter-zeitung.at in March 2004 the first level of development was completed. Since then hundreds of users are visiting the site each day. To ensure that the archive offers the best possible usability both for the professional and the private user, a detailed statistic of the archives usage is being recorded and analyzed as well as individual user-feedback and comments are being evaluated constantly. As a result repeatedly some smaller adjustments to design and functions of the archive have been made.
In cooperation with the Institute for Media and Communication of the University of Klagenfurt the evaluation together with an upcoming user survey will be used for communication research on user needs and behaviour concerning online newspaper archives.
This project depends still on support via sponsorships as www.arbeiterzeitung.at so far is fully financed by private means of the founders.