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Finding and Downloading Items for Research and Posting

Purpose of this Article

People who are curious enough about an item or subject will eventually try looking it up. Most of them are satisfied by the first few pages of Google 'hits' (including a Wikipedia article or two). This article was written to assist those few who, because many answers simply lead to more questions, want to know more. The intent is to guide people to authoritative primary and secondary source material. If you expect to share your information with others (or even if you don’t), it is important to document your sources. Thus, it is also a purpose of this article to describe how to accomplish 'easy' documentation. More advanced, computer literate readers are asked to excuse the fact that this article is written in (what may seem to be) an overly detailed manner; it is intended to assist computer novices.

Historical Means of Searching for Material

The following is included here because it is still a valid, viable, means of research. Historically (in pre-internet days), the first thing one did at the beginning of a search was to check an encyclopedia. This almost always involved a trip to a local library because even if you were fortunate enough to have an encyclopedia at home, it probably didn't have enough (or any) detailed information; you were going to have to widen your search. Many libraries had two important resources; copies of the Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature and microfilms of the New York Times (and possibly other important newspapers and periodicals).

Searching Today

Today, thanks to the internet and the organizations that are scanning (digitizing) materials in a way that is keyword-searchable, we can search for our desired subjects quickly and easily from our desktop computers or portable devices. To do so, here are some search engines that have proved to be useful. It is important to understand that new material (from old publications) is being digitized on a daily basis. So re-searching after six months or a year may yield additional material.

A Note About Keywords

Choosing useful keywords for which to search is a skill worth developing; too general and one ends up with an immense number of 'hits' through which to sort; too specific and desirable material might be missed. For example, if you're searching for material about the Burlington Watch Company, try using "Burlington Watch" or "Burlington Watch Co" (no period). Of course you can expect a lot of 'hits' for ads with something like this - the Burlington Watch Company advertised widely and heavily. But then ads are useful for telling at what point in time various products are introduced.

Once Found - Saving A Copy of the Material

If the material you wish a copy of is hardcopy (an actual book, magazine or newspaper), obviously you'll use a copy machine - very few libraries have scanners for public use. However, it a good idea to make it a two-sided copy, putting the title page on the back. Also, check to see that the page number(s) of the material you're copying show, or write it in as soon as you make a copy. Most libraries that have microfilm copies of periodicals have at least one microfilm reader/copier. When using these, take the time to write the pertinent information on the copy when it's made. The purpose of doing all of this work is twofold; first of all, undated information may be interesting but its very difficult to correlate with other information to form a picture of what happened; second, if you're going to share the information with others, its important to document your sources. The same principles apply to digitized materials downloaded from the internet or scanned in from hardcopies. The only hitch is that you'll need image editing software to add to the top or bottom margins and enter the text that documents the source.

Making the Material Presentable for Sharing

If there is a chance that you'll be posting the material (to answer a question, illustrate a point, support an assertion, or just for the fun of it), you should consider making an effort to have the material appear presentable when first downloading it. The first step is to eliminate the keyword highlights, The next step is to "capture" (download) the desired material. The third item is to record the information necessary to document the source. The fourth step is to edit the downloaded image. Finally comes the addition of text to credit the organization or person who created the actual images that were downloaded and any explanatory notes that may be needed.

Image Editing Software

You'll need image editing software that will enable you to perform the following functions. Using a combination of two or more programs (moving the file back and forth between them) may be necessary to carry out all of the functions.

  • Opening a large blank page upon which to paste multiple images from the clipboard to selected portions of the page.
  • Select portions of those images and copy & paste them elsewhere on the page (or onto another page), having high enough resolution and using high enough magnification to seamlessly join them to form a single image.
  • Erase, or copy & paste blank portions of material, to 'clean up' the material to increase legibility.
  • Edit the lightness, darkness or contrast to increase legibility. Some programs have functions that will automatically adjust these levels for optimum results.
  • Add text of various sizes and colors to the image.

The author uses two archaic, obscure programs that either may no longer be available, or may not run on modern operating systems/hardware; nevertheless, between them the above functions can be performed:
PhotoStudio 5.5
Serif PhotoPlus X4

Eliminating the Highlight(s)

Search engines will highlight the keyword(s) in the material(s) linked-to when a 'hit' is opened. The methods of eliminating the highlights described below don't really "eliminate" the highlights, rather they're a means of reloading the desired page(s) without searching for the keyword(s). Thus in all cases, make notes of the issue and page number(s) of the desired material.

For Google Books Advanced Search: Click on "Clear search" in the menu bar immediately above the material. Go to the desired page.

For Google News Archive: Click on the periodical name-date on the left in the menu bar immediately above the material. Go to the desired page.

For Library of Congress Chronicling America Advanced Search and New York State Historic Newspapers: Click on "All Pages" in the menu bar immediately above the material. Go to the desired page.

For California Digital Newspaper Collection: Look for a unique phrase on the same page as the desired material, but not within the material. Then, rerun the search using that phrase as the keywords. This method will work with other search engines.

Downloading the Material

The first thing to determine upon opening an unhighlighted page containing the desired material is: After increasing your display area to the maximum (going to 'fullscreen') and increasing the magnification of the material enough to easily read the text or to be able to see and understand the details of an illustration, does all of the desired material appear within the screen? Or, does it overrun a single screen, necessitating two (or more) successive downloads (screen captures) to obtain the desired material?

If all of the desired material appears within the screen, the job is almost done. Copy the screen to the clipboard (using the "PrtScn" key) and paste it into the center of a large blank page that's open in your image editing program. Then erase or delete the unwanted portions of the screen's image. Next, add the text to embed the information necessary to document the source and credit the organization or person(s) who created the actual images that were downloaded and any explanatory notes that may be needed. Crop the image, leaving a small border and save it under some sort of descriptive name to some logical folder.

If the material overruns a single screen, two (or more) successive downloads will have to be performed. Open a blank page in your image editing program that's a bit more than twice the size of the desired material (having created such a page that suits most needs, you might want to save it in an easy to find location). Copy one screen at a time to the clipboard and paste it on the large blank page, ensuring that you don't inadvertently change the desired material's magnification in going from one screen's worth of material to the next. Be such to include a small amount of overlap (in an easy-to-recognize area - perhaps a line of text) between one screen and the next.

Once all of the desired material has been pasted onto the blank page (see Fig. 1), this might be a good time to save the unfinished file, giving it its final name. This way, an error in rebuilding the image won't necessitate copying and pasting screens again. Your image editing program may have placed each successively pasted screen in a different layer. If so, this would be a good time to merge all of the layers.

Having pasted all of the desired material onto the blank page and saved it, select the desired portion of a convenient screen (typically the top or beginning) including the area of overlap of the adjacent screen and drag it over to an empty area of the page (the means of doing this varies with the image editing software being used). Be sure to leave space at the top to document the source. Next, select the adjacent material, splitting the overlap area, and drag it over to the first portion. It's helpful to increase the magnification to aid in aligning the adjacent material (see Fig. 2). Repeat this with additional screens until the desired material is reconstructed.

Editing the Material

Sometimes the desired material contains areas of lightened portions. If your selected material contains such areas, select them and use your image editing software's features to darken them. Some image editing software has a feature that will automatically adjust the selected area's contrast and lightness/darkness for optimum results (see Fig. 3 and Fig. 4).

If some words are obscured (by sploches or by a torn original page), but you can still make out what was there; they can be recreated by copying letters elsewhere in the text and pasting them in place. Or, if stains, sploches or a torn original page generally makes it difficult to discern the desired material, the image can be edited to correct these distractions. If decorative boarders or other inconsequential decorations are partially missing, they can be reconstructed by editing. Should you do any of this sort of editing, you should add text such as "Computer Enhanced" or something similar to alert viewers to the fact that your image (although it is functionally correct) is not an exact reproduction of the original source. Similarly, if your desired material begins at the bottom of one column and continues at the top of the next column, or is one very long column, you can edit the lines of text into two or more columns of approximately equal length. Should this be done, again, you should add text such as "Excerpt/Composite" or something similar to alert viewers to the fact that your image (again, although it is functionally correct) is not an exact reproduction of the original source.

Documenting the Material

You can certainly use text to document the material, adding it to the top, bottom, or wherever to the image file. Or, you can avoid possible errors by copying the information from the desired material's publication. The page number(s), date and name of the publication frequently appear at the top of each page, or on alternating pages. If not, check the front page of newspapers (which will also have the city and state) or magazines (following the first pages if advertising). If all else fails, check the 'masthead' on the editorial page (see Fig. 5). Yon can get a little creative, using the magnification of original page to achieve a suitable size to use with your downloaded material.

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Current Discussion: Main discussion

  1. Kent

    Kent Registered User
    Gibbs Literary Award NAWCC Fellow NAWCC Silver Member

    Aug 26, 2000
    Adding illustrations:
  2. Tom McIntyre

    Tom McIntyre Technical Admin
    Staff Member NAWCC Star Fellow NAWCC Ruby Member Sponsor

    Aug 24, 2000
    retired SW dev
    Great job Kent. I corrected a simple typo.

    The use of attachments in the discussion as the target of figures will need an explanation somewhere, but it probably belongs in the general tutorial that is in serious need of updates.

    I wonder if the language of source acknowledgements should say "abstracted from" when the material is not really a copy but the more useful cut and paste assemblage.