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From Print to Digital: Making Over a Million Archived Photos Searchable

NYT Open – A team of technicians have scanned over a million photos into a New York Times database. It took a team of technologists to make those photos searchable. “A block away from the hustle and bustle of Times Square in New York City, buried three floors below street level, lies The New York Times archive. The archive is housed in a sprawling room that is packed with hundreds of steel filing cabinets and cardboard boxes, each containing news clippings, encyclopaedias, photographs and other archival material. Started in the late 1800s, the archive first served as a collection of news clippings about newsworthy events and people. In the late 1960s, it was merged with a photo library managed by The Times’s art department. The archive (which is sometimes referred to as “the morgue”) now contains tens of millions of news clippings and an estimated five million printed photographs. Many of these historical documents are available only in print form, however in 2018, The Times embarked on a project — as part of a technology and advertising collaboration with Google — to preserve the photographs in the collection and store them digitally. A team of technicians manually scan about 1,000 photographs per day into a server, and in July, 2019, they scanned their one millionth photograph. Many of these photographs have found a new life in stories produced by The Times’s archival storytelling project, Past Tense. With a digital photographic archive now at over a million scans, we needed to build an asset management system that allows Times journalists to search and browse through the photos in the archive from their laptops…”

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