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Lockdown demand prompts weekly to escalate digital archive project

A weekly newspaper has escalated a project to digitise its archives after experiencing a “huge upsurge” in reader demand sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Herald Digital Archive Project was first launched by the Farnham Herald in November 2019, but its progress was stalled by the Covid-19 lockdowns.

However, the lockdowns also prompted an increase in local interest for local newspaper archive material and the Herald has now got the project back on track.

With the help of volunteers over the past year, 80pc of the Tindle-owned Herald’s physical paper archives – totalling some 785 volumes of newsprint – have now been inventoried, while 99,000 photo negatives have been indexed.

Farnham Herald

It is hoped fundraising will begin in early 2023 once options and costs for the Herald digitisation have been assessed.

In a piece explaining the latest developments, Herald head of content Daniel Gee wrote “Although the project was launched before the pandemic, during the Covid lockdowns the Herald experienced a huge upsurge in archive requests – heightening the need to digitise its archives.”

Daniel added: “The project is faced with two options. One is to commission a company to scan the newsprint and microfilms on its behalf, while another is to buy specialist scanning equipment and do the work itself.

“Both will need considerable funding, with community fundraising and grant applications likely to be launched in the new year.

“Whichever option is chosen, the software used to scan in the news pages will convert the images into PDF files which, by using optical character recognition technology, will then be made searchable.

“This means, in theory, anybody searching for a particular article will be able to type in certain keywords – for example ‘Harold Falkner’ or ‘Farnham Castle’ – and be shown all relevant results dating back 130 years.”