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By Ryan Taylor

I expect any day now we'll hear that the Kitchener Public Library will be clearing out all its books and replacing the stacks with rows of computer terminals. Books are out.

Is it possible?

Apparently the Trillium Foundation thinks so. A combination of libraries and genealogical societies in northeastern Ontario had requested a grant to buy a set of Drouin books for use in North Bay. Drouin contains a huge collection of data about Quebec families. The only copies are in Quebec City and Ottawa, and the many French Canadian genealogists in northern Ontario might appreciate finding a set near them.

No need, says the Trillium Foundation. With digitising of printed materials now a possibility, the Drouin materials will someday be available on-line. Books are outmoded.

Aside from the disappointment this week in the genealogical community of northern Ontario, the Trillium Foundation bureaucrats should be led out of their ivory tower for a glimpse of the real world.

Digitisation of books and newspapers is certainly going full steam all over the world. People who are involved in the process are working steadily to make materials more available and it is a treat when we find a page we can use in our research.

But there are millions -- maybe billions -- of titles waiting to be copied and, I hate to tell our friends at the Trillium Foundation, there are plenty of people who do not have the technology to access digitised materials at home anyway. For them, books are still the answer.

And it looks like it will be that way for a while. The funding for digitising has slumped during the recent awkwardness in the global economy. In addition, there is many a slip between the book and screen when it comes to planning and then executing the technical side of things. At the library where I work, we had beaver-like technicians pouring over our books, drawing up plans for extensive digitising of family histories and many, many meetings. That was a couple of years back. Number of pages digitised so far: zero.

When we find the right website, things can be exciting. One Canadian site all genealogists should know in the digital world is www.paperofrecord.com. This site works on Canadian newspapers, and its home page proudly announces that more than six million pages are available.

One good thing about the site is that it is not doing very old papers only. While we want those old ones, a number of local genealogical societies and, of course, the Bur-Mor company in Stratford, Ontario, have been publishing indexes of 19th century newspapers for years. Newspapers from 1950 are both more numerous and more difficult to access. Paper of Record is working to make some of these digitally available also. Among its recent additions are the Renfrew Mercury for the 1940s, and over 90,000 pages of the Temiskaming Speaker from New Liskeard covering all of the last century.

Paper of Record does not confine itself to Canada, although it started here and most of its papers are Canadian, at least for the moment. They seem to have been very busy doing journals from Mexico lately.

The site is fee-based, so to do much searching, you'll have to be prepared to pay. Look over what papers are in the Paper of Record catalog and judge whether it will be worth your while to pay for the search.

Since they are adding materials regularly, go back every few weeks to see what's new. You may hit the jackpot, and then the money will seem well spent. And you can let the people at the Trillium Foundation know that they're right. Nobody will ever need a book again.

Posted July 21, 2003
Column copyright © 2003 Ryan Taylor

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