This was a really fun pro-bono project we took on in 2003, shortly before a local librarian’s retirement. Judy had spent several decades writing some 87,190 abstracts (single-sentence summaries) of newspaper articles published in Northern Nevada prior to 1900. She also developed a hierarchical indexing vocabulary that she used to tag each article. She was an amazing resource for visiting historians, but when she gave notice, she feared the library might scrap her ancient Apple Mac, and her data along with it. No one else there really knew how to use it.

Though fairly consistent in format, her abstracts were scattered across a variety of Hypercard and FileMaker databases of various vintages, going all the way back to FileMaker 1.0. Judy had a portable ZIP drive (remember those?) so we used that to get all the database files onto our system.

From there, we exported them as text files, and used Unix text-processing tools (sed, awk, grep, etc.) to finagle them all into a single, massive comma-delimited file. From there, it was an easy matter to write a custom MySQL database and import the records.

Finally, we wrote a full-text search interface using PHP, HTML, and CSS. It enables Judy, in her capacity as a museum volunteer, to continue her legacy of supporting local historians in their research efforts. Features include an advanced search interface, sortable result columns, and keyword highlighting. It’s blazing fast, scoring a perfect 100 on Pagespeed Insights.

Our hope was that someone would eventually come up with the funding to photograph the pages of these ancient papers, so that the search results could take the reader to the full article. Any takers???

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