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The depth of archives

Patricia Sullivan

Overlooked in the hoopla about Brand X removing online restrictions on its columnists is that they are also opening up the last 20 years worth of news archives to all comers. As obit writers, we are great fans of archives.

We occasionally get calls from people doing genealogical research who want to know what we've printed in the past. Just last month, a neighbor who is very active in local historic preservation matters asked how to plumb The Washington Post archives. Here's the answer: There's the easy version or the way-back version, for which you either need to pay some nominal amount or get it free by subscribing to the print version and signing up for a marketing program called PostPoints. Or turn to a good public library.

As a matter of fact, way back in the 1980s, one of the things that made me most excited about the pre-Web Internet was the ability to get into the old "clippings" of major metropolitan newspapers. At the time, I was working for a 30,000-circulation paper that didn't have Lexis, Nexis or any news files other than its own. Yes, that did make it hard to provide context in our news stories.

Authoritative archives are still a pain in the neck to search, despite Lexis/Nexis, Proquest, Factiva, Google, etc. (Business opportunity there for someone with the patience to herd the cats of the publishing world.) But nothing beats the thrill of stumbling across a story or page from the past that matters.

By Patricia Sullivan  |  September 19, 2007; 2:32 PM ET
Categories:  Patricia Sullivan  
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The problem is that not everyone lives near a good public library, or a public library at all. We're six hours by car away from the nearest public library with a decent archive.

Posted by: Charlene | September 20, 2007 12:58 PM | Report abuse

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