It's a wrap: New library application for digitized newspaper archives

January 21, 2019
cartoon of a fish singing into a handheld mic while wearing a hat and jacket made of newspaper

Image by Lawrence Wentzel

by Alan Piñon

A Fishrappr. ­­­­ This could be a lyrical trout named Eazy-Eel that spits mad rhymes at schools of fanatic guppy groupies. Or, Fishrappr is an advanced, online user interface created to make the content of print newspapers accessible and searchable in an attractive and easy-to-use portal.

Not to disappoint, but Fishrappr is not the fantastical Tadpole Shakur. However, the Fishrappr application, developed by the U-M Library to support the online The Michigan Daily Digital Archives, is pretty fantastic in its own, albeit lesser-known, genre of library technologies.

Asked about the name, John Weise, head of Digital Library Applications, says the development team made the connection to a once-common fish market phenomenon (wrapping products in newspaper), with a twist on the spelling.

Fishrappr was born out of a long standing desire to create a digital archive of The Michigan Daily newspaper physical archives. It was, in the end, the advocacy of student editorial staff that drove the project. And the development of Fishrappr, though critical, was only one aspect of this complicated project.

“Getting from print to the current offering online required a great deal of work,” said Weise.

Since all of the issues of The Daily were bound into large volumes held at the Bentley Historical Library, they had to be manually, painstakingly, disbound and conserved to prepare them for scanning. The staff at the Bentley did this work, said Weise.

Once scanned and digitized, optical character recognition (OCR) software generated text that could be indexed and searched, a task that took months to complete. “It was a brute force approach in the sense that the recognition software is simply at the page level. Individual articles were not segmented and linked in the way we experience them while reading a newspaper,” said Weise.

Also, the publishing practices of The Daily varied over the decades. “The team at the U-M Library had to sort through the differences in order to create a coherent presentation of the content and a functional system,” said Kat Hagedorn, head of Digital Content & Collections. Since the goal of the project was not just to make the text searchable online, but to do so in a way that met accessibility standards within an interface that was user-friendly, the library’s Design & Discovery department conducted extensive user and beta testing that informed the design of the front-facing product.

The online archive for The Michigan Daily was unveiled by President Schlissel last year, and was heralded across the university during last year’s bicentennial. The project was made possible by a collaboration among teams from the U-M Library, the Bentley Library, and The Daily, and with funds provided by the The Kemp Family Foundation.

For the University of Michigan, bringing this product online has long-lasting benefits.

First, the full text of The Michigan Daily archive from 1890–2014 can be searched and read online. For researchers and anyone curious about the university’s history from the student perspective, it’s a powerful tool.

In addition, the Fishrappr application, which took over a year to bring online, can host multiple newspapers without a great deal of additional work on the technology end. In fact, it already is: In November, the Bentley Historical Library announced the launch of The Detroit Jewish News Archive.


The Michigan Daily Digital Archives

The Detroit Jewish News Archives


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Last modified: 01/24/2019