Imagine doing a google search for “David Schnaufer” and immediately seeing all the Dulcimer Players News articles that ever mentioned him, contests he’s won, and reviews of all his recordings. How about a search for “hammers,” “6½ fret,” or “Uncle Ed Thomas.” It’s cool to have a stack of every Dulcimer Players News on the table, but wouldn’t it be cool to search those magazines almost instantly?
A couple years ago, Dan Landrum, DPN Editor, asked me to help him put the entire Dulcimer Players News archive online and make it searchable. What follows is an update on where this project stands now, and the twists and turns that have gotten us here.
There were quite a few issues missing from the archives, so the first order of business was to fill in the gaps. Dan says, “We used DPN and EverythingDulcimer.com to put the word out in 2009, and subscribers were able to fill in most of the gaps.” There are still two issues to be found: Winter 1975 (the first issue) and Winter 1977. If any readers have either one of these, please contact Angie Landrum,
Having almost all of the back issues in hand, Dan and Angie sliced them into individual pages, bought a couple of high quality scanners, and set about turning all of that ink into PDF (portable document format) files. Fortunately, electronic versions of all the stories exist from 2003 on, but everything from 1975 through 2002 needed to be scanned. This was a slow process, and the results were mostly dissapointing. “The scans looked OK,” Dan says, “but the OCR output we were getting was mostly unusable.”
OCR stands for optical character recognition. It is the process that converts pictures of text, which is what scans are, into actual editable text. Getting a good scan only solved part of the problem. The text in the PDF had to be extractable from the PDF itself. “When we extracted the text from our scans, they had too much gibberish to be useful. We tried multiple software/scanner combinations. No software seemed to live up to the promises on the box. We finally decided to get some professional help, and outsourced the whole project. Those results were only marginally better.
What we all ultimately learned is that OCR technology works pretty well for text from a single column, typed, piece of paper, but multiple columns of text, with varying fonts and type sizes just don’t translate well. It became clear that all this text would have to be manually typed back in.
This was clearly going to take hundreds of hours, so we began searching for a transcription service, settling on a company called Evirtual Services.
“They did what I’ll call a pretty good job, “ recalls Dan, “but their transcriptions are by no means perfect..” We ultimately decided they were good enough though, and it was clearly time to move on to the next step.
With thousands of ‘pretty good’, transcriptions in hand, we began the manual process of pairing transcriptions with their corresponding scanned images. The sole purpose of the transcription text is to guide the reader to the images. Google indexes the transcriptions which will then guide the reader to the page images from the appropriate magazine issue.
Perfect transcriptions would be ideal, and, dear reader, you can help make this a reality, by putting in as much, or as little editing time as you’re willing to donate.
The articles reside on www.everythingdulcimer.com. Just look for the Music and Articles menu item. Under each article will be an area for you to point out errors, suggest changes, and even provide us with corrected text. We’ll also need your help tagging content. For example, all TAB/sheet music should be tagged as such. We can also tag sheet music by style or technique. A certain piece of music could be tagged sheet music, three-string, DGD, Irish, etc.
All of this is about finding little treasures and sharing them with the world. I’ve found some really cool stuff so far. The earliest issues will remind you of the forum on EverythingDulcimer.com. There are lots of letters from players sharing ideas and asking questions. You immediately get the sense of how excited all these folks were about meeting each other and making music together. It reminds me how connected this community is, and hopefully always will be.
Included is a wealth of articles from dulcimer historian extraordinaire Ralph Lee Smith, tons of playing advice and arrangements from Madeline MacNeil, the former editor, theory articles by Jerry Rockwell, and tablature by Lois Hornbostel. There’s all the cool hand-drawn ads, the photos filled with young faces, early competition results including Winfield and Galax, and directories of the earliest festivals and clubs in the country. The tablature and sheet music alone will keep you busy for years.
Then there’s all the mentions of historical figures who have passed on. We’ve got a letter from Tennessee dulcimer builder Paul Pyle, an interview with Al d’Ossché, and a cover photo of Pope John Paul II cradling a McSpadden. (Yes, he was a player.) There’s an article with TAB by David Schnaufer, a good number of letters, articles, and arrangements from Roger Nicholson, an arrangement from Jean Schilling of Cosby, TN, and a letter from Marc Robine, a well-known dulcimer player from Nice, France.Don’t know some of these names? The archives will introduce you to those who have shaped our dulcimer world into the thriving community we know today. Did you know that hammered dulcimer was played on the WSM Radio show years which would later be known as the Grande Ole Opry? Read the archives and you’ll know who, when, and how they verified this little known fact.
Please spread the word and stop by www.everythingdulcimer.com to learn how you can help make these archives better for all of us. Here’s your chance to learn a lot, have some fun, and help us keep the magic alive for future generations.