Grant brings Bethel’s annals of history to the web

April 29, 2013 | 11 a.m.

Funds will fill the 20-year gap in Bethel’s newspaper archives

News | Jared Nelson for The Clarion

Grant brings Bethel’s annals of history to the web

The pages are first copied using optical character recognition technology (above). They are then ready for upload and cataloging. | Photo for The Clarion by Erin Gallagher.

In a few short months, every Clarion article since 1983 will be digitized and available to readers around the world. Currently, Bethel’s online library contains all of the articles from 1931 to 1983, which were made available a few years ago by a faculty-alumni grant.

The most recent installment of digitization is coming to fruition because of the hard work of Bethel’s digital library manager, Kent Gerber. Gerber works with Bethel’s recorded archives, finding distinctive works published by students and faculty. The Clarion is Bethel’s largest student publication, and Gerber stays busy archiving past issues for public record.

“With The Clarion, I work a lot with the archives and historical artifacts,” Gerber said. “I figure out how to digitize the physical files and how to make sure the digital files stay around for a long time.” Gerber’s master’s degree is in library and information science with a specialization in digital libraries, and his passion for retaining the archives is evident in his attention to detail throughout the process.
Diana Magnuson is the director of the archives for Bethel and Converge Worldwide, and she worked with Gerber throughout the digitization of the first set of papers.

“Kent has been fantastic to work with,” Magnuson said. “He is not only intelligent, but he’s passionate. He understands the liberal arts and thinks things through so they’re done well the first time.”

While Gerber and Magnuson worked together to get the initial grant, Gerber spearheaded the acquistion of the second. He filled out a lengthy application and sent it to the Minnesota Historical Society. The grant's official title is the “Historical and Cultural Heritage Grant,” and the money comes from a 2008 state amendment that allots a small portion of sales taxes to clean water, nature conservation and preserving history and culture. The application was submitted last November and was recently approved, as Gerber is currently preparing to ship the documents to the vendor in a few weeks.

The money from the grant goes directly to the vendor that will digitize all of The Clarion issues from 1983 until the present. The vendor that Gerber used for the first installment of digitization is called ArcaSearch, a company based out of Elk River, Minn. and led by a Bethel graduate. Gerber will be working with ArcaSearch for the second time because of their expertise with documents larger than a standard 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper.

The actual process of digitizing the documents involves a state-of-the-art procedure. The hard copy issue of The Clarion is placed on a large copy stand outfitted with high-resolution cameras. They take the paper's digital image from the cameras and process it with the text software called “optical character recognition.” The digital image and the text is electronically compressed and the entire file is returned to Gerber for archiving.

But when Gerber receives the file from ArcaSearch, the process is not complete.

“The final step is when we add extra information with the files, what we call 'metatext,' or 'metadata,'” said Gerber. “This information would traditionally be found in a library catalog and it makes the files easier to find for those searching on the Internet.”

Gerber highlights the fact that people from all over the world will have access to these files on Bethel’s digital library site, and that the interaction with the text is astounding.

“Not only can people look at the actual page that was in The Clarion, but they can search the full text for key words or phrases,” Gerber said.

Gerber and Magnuson are set on one thing: accessibility. They want the digital files to be easy to use, and they understand that in order for something to be simple, it often needs to be complicated behind the scenes.

Their goal is to broaden the influence of Bethel’s student and faculty writers beyond Bethel’s student body and alumni – to enter the scholarly and research-oriented discussions around the globe.

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