Ask the Archivist

Our Living Resource: 100 Years of Student News Online

By Laura Sorvetti

Photo By Patrick Kammermyer

Where do university archivists go to find out about Cal Poly history?

When Special Collections and Archives receives questions about Cal Poly history, we often direct researchers to the student newspaper. Published since 1916, it’s the most comprehensive, in-depth source on the history of Cal Poly. There is no record that provides better perspectives on student life and events than the newspaper — created for students, by students. Issue after issue expresses the voices of students at Cal Poly: their hopes and worries, their critiques and excitement, and of course, the important news of the day.

In preparation for the newspaper’s centennial, the University Archives staff made it a priority to digitize 7,600 issues of the newspaper — a total of 75,000 pages — making them accessible for public use. Keeping pace with new technologies, University Archives also began to capture and preserve the student news produced for the web.

Since September 2015, students and alumni have been able to use the digital version of the newspaper in exciting ways — ways that were impossible when the collection was only available in print. Today, students are able to examine responses to war and social change or analyze campus sentiments in the letters to the editor across hundreds of issues. The beginnings of campus traditions, clubs and campus organizations can be more easily uncovered, and alumni can recover the stories that defined their years at Cal Poly.

Having a giant corpus of digital text available also presents opportunities for hands-on, practical experience in new courses. Using digital tools, students in data journalism have demonstrated ways to mine and visualize the digital text. Students in the new data science minor and computer science classes are using the digital text to help train computers how to identify discrete stories, making the newspaper collection more useable in an online environment. The computer program these students create could be applied to digital projects anywhere.

Whether you are on campus for Homecoming, a football game, Mustang Family Weekend, or just dropping by, please visit the 100 Years of Delivering the News exhibit in the library from Oct. 14 to Dec. 9, and share your memories of the newspaper with us. To turn the (digital) pages of Cal Poly history for yourself, visit lib.calpoly.edu/universityarchives.

Have a question about Cal Poly history for Kennedy Library archivists to research? Submit it at magazine@calpoly.edu.

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