Mongolia underwent significant political and economic changes during the collapse of communism. Along with the positive consequences of the transition to democracy and market economy, rapid political and social transformation processes also had some negative consequences especially for the cultural and documentary heritage; the euphoria of revolution led to neglecting or even intentional eradicating of documents, publications and other materials from socialist times. Political and economic dependence upon the Soviet Union for seven decades and the resulting sudden release from political ties meant that everything related to the Soviet Union and the period of its dominance was subject to denial. In addition, the deep economic crisis in the 1990s determined that cultural issues including the maintenance and development of libraries, publication of books and actions to safeguard the documentary heritage of Mongolia have been out of attention of the government and public for a while. For example, over the last 10 years there has been a 68% decline in book production per inhabitant per year. In 1989 there were a total of 418 public libraries and more than 600 newspaper distribution points in comparison to 181 public libraries and a collapsed distribution system for newspapers in 2001.
During this time the Press Institute of Mongolia has been collecting old newspapers. At present, the Press Institute's collection of historical periodicals consists of 80 titles of newspapers and magazines bound in 193 bands. This collection includes periodical publications from different years (1923 -1996) which are not available elsewhere. There are no any other institutions except the State Library with the responsibility, willingness and/or respective resources to collect periodical publications and make them accessible for research.
The Press Institute's collection of periodicals both before and after socialism is intensively used by students and researchers so that the physical quality of these materials is rapidly deteriorating. In spite of the urgent need to safeguard these materials, lack of funding, expertise and resources prevent the Institute from preserving them from physical deterioration and destruction.
The aim of the project is to safeguard the collection of old periodical publications that is inaccessible elsewhere from the risk of physical deterioration and destruction, to preserve their content and make them more accessible by digitising the material, delivering the copies online to a broader public in Mongolia and abroad and depositing copies to the State Library, the Library of the National University and the British Library.
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During this project 59 Mongolian newspaper titles were converted into digital format. The newspapers selected for the project were published during the transition period of 1990-1995 and document the political changes in Mongolia after the fall of Communism. The project resulted in scanning 39,029 pages in several formats, including A4, A3, and large A2 newspaper format, of 6,189 issues.
The newspapers were scanned at the Press Institute of Mongolia using oversize flatbed scanners according to established digitisation standards. Each scanned newspaper page was treated as a separate image and saved as an archival master. Larger newspaper pages in A2 format were scanned in two sections and then merged in Adobe Photoshop software.
The images created as a direct result of the scanning process represent preservation quality digital masters. Two copies of each digital master in the TIFF format were created for this project. The first set of archival TIFF files is stored on the dedicated external drive at the Press Institute of Mongolia. The second set was burned into CDs and deposited at the British Library.
In addition to converting the selected newspapers into a digital format and creating archival copies for preservation purposes, an online collection was also built to support remote and immediate access to copies of the newspapers on the Web. Greenstone, open source digital library software, developed at the University of Waikato in New Zealand, was selected for the project because of its strong multilingual support. The software supports searching in the Mongolian language and is capable of displaying non-Latin characters including the Cyrillic alphabet.
The title of the online collection is: 'Digital Archive of the Mongolian Newspapers 1990-1995'. The Home page of the collection provides a bilingual list of titles available in the collection. It also includes a link to the PDF versions of the newspapers.
The online collection provides access to full-text of newspapers in two formats. In addition to searchable HTML files, the online version also includes PDF files that were created separately using Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Acrobat. The PDF format is more suitable for printing and provides a more accurate representation of the physical newspapers. The HTML format offers full-text searching and multiple browsing options. Each newspaper title can be browsed by year, issue number, and an article title. In addition, keyword searching is provided for each title. The newspapers can be searched by keywords in article titles as well as in the body of article text.
The original print publications that were scanned for the project remain in the holdings of the library at the Press Institute of Mongolia. Because of the availability of the online collection and PDF versions of the newspapers, the use of the original print materials should be reduced.
The process of building a digital collection both for long-term preservation and immediate access on the Web was very challenging and labour-intensive. This was also the first large-scale digitisation project in Mongolia, so the project staff had to develop expertise in digitisation standards and locate a software program that would support searching in the Mongolian language and display the Cyrillic alphabet. Using Greentsone, open source software for the online collection helped to reduce the cost, but also posed many technical challenges since this was the first project built in Greenstone in the Mongolian language. The project staff had to solve many technical problems that had to do with font incompatibility, quality of PDF files, and presentation of the collection online.
Despite these challenges, this was an extremely valuable project for the Press Institute of Mongolia. The staff at the Institute had an opportunity to develop expertise in digital library standards and learn how to manage a large-scale digitisation project.
The Press Institute of Mongolia intends to add more newspapers from its collection to the digital archive after the expiry of the grant award. Building on staff skills and expertise developed during this project, it plans to continue scanning and adding more issues to the digital repository and online collection in the future. With the growing interest in digitisation, the Press Institute of Mongolia also intends to share the knowledge gained from the project with other institutions undertaking digitisation projects in Mongolia.