Western acquires digital ‘gold mine’ of magazines

Debora Van Brenk // Western NewsElizabeth Mantz, Collections and Content Strategies Librarian at Western Libraries, explores an account of D-Day landing at Normandy in Maclean’s magazine. A digitized collection of Maclean’s, Time, Life and Atlantic Magazine is available for the first time to Western and Londoners through London Public Library.

A journey through the last century and a half no longer requires the complexity of time machine construction – library access will do just fine.

Western Libraries is now home to a digitized database of four of North America’s most influential newsmagazines of the past 150 years. The searchable archive of Maclean’s, Time, Life and Atlantic Monthly will also be available publicly to all Londoners through the London Public Library catalog.

This acquisition will be a boon to historians and other researchers accustomed to squinting through grainy magazine images on microfilm or scrolling haphazardly through non-indexed fiche files, said Elizabeth Mantz, Collections and Content Strategies Librarian at Western Libraries.

“These look as real as if they are in your hands,” she explained of the high-resolution PDFs. “It’s putting the past into an accessible way people can use. If you’re researching history, social issues, popular culture, economics, political policies, this database is a reflection of all the societies that produced them.”

For the Western community, the magazines are available through the EBSCO Magazine Archive located within the Western Libraries database collection. The collection can be accessed via on-campus computers or remotely with a Western login.

The collection is also available to anyone with a London Public Library card through the Information Database site.

The London Public Library access was negotiated as part of Western’s package, a deal inspired by a similar negotiation at the University of Saskatchewan. Mantz said that inclusion was important, because sharing resources with the broader community benefits everyone.

David McCord, Coordinator, Collections Management at London Public Library, said the collection is value-added for all the partners.

“This collection is a goldmine of content,” he said. “It’s a great complement to the digital collections we have on offer for London Public Library users.”

Researchers can explore history from cover to cover – from bylines and photos, to subjects, dates, and keywords, to even covers and advertisements. That’s a huge leap forward from previous resources, with their inconsistent and incomplete indexes, Mantz said.

“Indexing for Canadian periodicals is – not great,” she explained. Western has a paper index of Maclean’s articles from 1914-35. “It’s a delightful old fossil someone typed out.”

Maclean’s has been one of the most requested and dog-eared publications in the library collection. A librarian for 30 years, Mantz recalls the periodical identifier code: AP5.M163. “It wouldn’t be overstating it to say it’s seminal for historical reference in Canada.”

But anyone wanting to find old articles was forced to leaf through hard copies in search of the hoped-for information, or scroll through microfilm or squint through microfiche with inconsistent reproduction quality. “That was painful at the time. It’s almost unthinkable now for the average undergrad to go through that.”

For years, Life magazine has been known for its brilliant photos, and this database recaptures them for readers. “It just jumps out of lenses and cameras into people’s living room. It’s access to primary source material – you’re not looking at a book with photos in it.”

Initially, Western was only interested in access to Maclean’s, but then negotiated a four-magazine, bundled deal with the publisher, EBSCO, to buy the archives in a lump sum so that Western will own them in perpetuity.

Digital access also ensures periodicals from the same archive don’t have to be kept on site; the print copies can be preserved in a purpose-built facility off-site and space at The D.B. Weldon Library can be freed up.