The Tablet archive

July 29 2014

History Today has the wrong kind of online back issue archive. The Times has done it right.

Most publications do it wrong. What about The Tablet? Its archive, going back to its foundation – 1840, midway between Catholic emancipation and the restoration of the hierarchy – is important. It has an additional interest for me because of a family connection.

It, too, gives us OCRd text full of scanning errors. It generously says that it hopes to eliminate all of them in time. But this an impossible task. And why show OCRd text at all? The Times doesn’t present a single word like this, but offers high-resolution, generously-sized, fully-searchable images of original pages and articles.

The Tablet then tries to make up for the scanning mess – which is more than History Today does – by giving us rather mean little sub-windows onto the original printed pages. They don’t show enough and are awkward to navigate. To navigate an article in The Times, you don’t slide it around within a sub-window in your screen. Your screen is the window.

3 out of 10. A pity, because this is a major resource. The Tablet, again generously, makes it available to non-subscribers.

5 Responses to “The Tablet archive”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    Several of the 1968 thumbnail covers actually show 1868. I haven’t checked all years.

    With the Times jpegs you feel you can touch the text. With one of these sub-windows, all you can do is move around the fragment of it that you are allowed to see.

  2. davidderrick Says:

    On 1 Aug 2014, at 10:41, Abigail Frymann wrote:

    Dear David

    Well it’s true it’s not perfect, but it is still a work in progress. We’ve had some issues with the support team who will make the corrections once they’ve been flagged up. We’re due to be able to get mistakes corrected as soon as they’re spotted. We lack the financial and personnel resources of The Times but nonetheless our archive receives 35,000 visits a month even now. And, at the moment it’s completely free to use. When the improvements we’re after have taken place, I do hope you’ll blog about it again.



    Dear Abigail

    Thanks. But my point was that there is no point in correcting it – it’s a noble but impossible task. If the archive had been done the other way (the right way, in my opinion – with the emphasis on good page images), there would be no need to correct anything.

    I did acknowledge your generosity in allowing free access!

    Thanks again.

    Best regards


    To which I got a further nice reply. She hadn’t been involved in the selection of the scanning supplier. I added:

    Do you happen to know which firm was used? I recognise their fingerprint in other archives. The trouble is, everything digital got rushed into by people who did not have time to weigh things up and had no experience, and they were guided by geeks who were not really archivists and didn’t understand what was needed.

  3. davidderrick Says:

    I called this archive a major resource, and it is that. But when I look at random pages of the 20th-century Tablet, I think, without self-identifying as Catholic: “God, we’ve come a long way.”

  4. davidderrick Says:

    Gramophone follows the History Today model, rather than the hybrid Tablet model.

    And it has a bizarre habit of not naming reviewers online even though it names them in the hard copy.


  5. davidderrick Says:

    The Spectator is a bad case of the hybrid Tablet model.

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