Improving the user experience for adding metadata is key to enabling all interested parties, university-affiliated and otherwise, to contribute their expertise. Getting to this point will require the developers of tools to engage end-users as early as possible.

Overview of User Needs

Systems for interacting with metadata should be easy to use, well-designed and with familiar graphical interfaces to avoid confusion for users with little technical experience. Documentation explaining fields should be immediately accessible and the interface should offer crowdsourced, straightforward ways to add standardized information, such as through drop-downs, as well as the ability to select suggestions from particular metadata schemas. Users should also be allowed to add information automatically as much as possible in order to reduce both opportunities for error and time spent. Following field-wide, accepted digital preservation and access standards can support this.

Currently Available Tools

Which tools currently exist for users to interact with digital newspaper collections? From a digitization perspective, newspapers are made available with a small selection of tools with the aim of allowing users to work with the dataset as they wish. Collection curators, however, recognise that many users are unsure about what is available or are craving specific training on utilizing these tools when working with newspaper datasets.

“If you build it, they will come” is a common refrain, but newspaper repository architects need information from users about their research needs. Meanwhile, researchers need to be able to understand the interface decisions made in designing the repository. Standardization of metadata, OCR, and imaging practices supports this, with many parallels across countries and states, but users may need additional information that is not necessarily in the standard schema.

To give just one example—providing a descriptive characterization about the available newspaper data (OCR/TIF images/derivative access files) would give researchers the ability to envision the possibilities of how the collection could be used in their research (see Smith 2016 for a further discussion on this topic).

Goals for the Future

Developers building access to collections should be transparent and provide access to digital building configurations to help researchers understand different ways they can work with the data for research. Even if the full backend data is now available to researchers, it would be useful to have documentation about provenance fields and other metadata as well as the definitions used during input. Libraries and other publishers of newspaper archives often only find out about how users interact with the data, and which types of provenance data they would like to use, when their research is published or when individual researchers contact them. Going forward, there is a need for more a systematic communication between the providers of the data and the researchers who use it—not only after the interface has been developed, but throughout the process. A collaborative approach, as exemplified in the Oceanic Exchanges project, leading to the Atlas of Digitized Newspapers and Metadata, is a promising step in the right direction.


Smith, Maria (2016) “At Risk”: An Analysis of newspaper source materials digitized by U.S. and European repositories. Paper presented at: IFLA WLIC 2016 – Columbus, OH – Connections. Collaboration. Community in Session S21 - Satellite Meeting: News Media. In: News, new roles & preservation advocacy: moving libraries into action, 10-12 August 2016, Lexington, KY, USA. (Available at:

This blog is the product of a 40-minute collaborative writing session held via Zoom as part of the Exploring the Atlas of Digitised Newspapers and Metadata Workshop, held 19 August 2020. The editors of this site would like to thank the authors for their contribution to our ongoing conversation around the future of digitised newspaper collections.