Tools of the Trade: More on the Daily Racing Form Archive

Becky Ryder, director of the Keeneland Library, supervised the creation of the Daily Racing Form archive in 2007, overseeing everything from scanning the fragile pages of more than a century’s worth of the DRF to creating the digital archive for anyone to use. To follow up my earlier post on this important tool, I wanted to find out more about the archive and its creation from Ms. Ryder. Read on to learn more about this important repository of racing history!

How did you become involved with this project to archive the Daily Racing Form?

When the Daily Racing Form, Inc. placed the massive archive dating back to 1896 at Keeneland in 2000, I was the Head of Preservations Services at the University of Kentucky Libraries where my department specialized in the preservation of newspapers.  Cathy Schenck, Head Librarian at that time, contacted me for advice on how to stabilize and preserve the over 3,000 bound volumes of fragile newsprint and how to make them more accessible to patrons.  Eventually, this led to an invitation to write a proposal to do a pilot project focusing on Triple Crown coverage from 1896 to 1990.  Keeneland accepted UK’s proposal and “Partnering to Preserve Racing’s Rich History” was born.

Tell us about the process of archiving one issue of the DRF.

When most people think of the Daily Racing Form, they visualize the tabloid newspaper they purchased at the track and probably discarded after the races. Keeneland’s DRF archive comprises large bound volumes usually including all the issues for anywhere from 1 week to 6 months depending on the size of the paper.  Based on experience, I knew these large volumes would need to be taken apart and separated into single pages.  And before you take them apart, you have to know exactly what you have so that you can keep everything in order.  So, the first step is what we call “collation,” a page-by-page inspection to determine the number of pages and the “look and feel” of bound volumes.  Once we’ve recorded that information, we take the volumes apart, first in sections, then into separate pages.  Once pages are separated, they are placed in archival folders, and the folders go into custom-sized archival boxes.  Now they are ready for image capture.  At UK, we used a “hybrid” methodology employing microfilm and digital imaging.  The Forms were filmed on reels, then the reels were fed through a film scanner to create the digital images.  Since Keeneland’s DRF archive is probably the most complete copy of the Form in the world, we felt the redundancy of microfilm and digital was a hedge against potential disasters.  After the digital images were created, a number steps, some automated and some manual, were employed to make the newspaper text searchable.  When the “package” of images, searchable text, and other identifying information were complete, the package was loaded into a repository where images are both preserved and made accessible to you, the patron.

What about this project surprised you most?

Probably the large number of racetracks operating in the early 20th century.  More than half of them no longer exist.  That means the coverage provided by the  Daily Racing Form about those venues is very important for researchers.

What response have you received from people both inside and outside of horse racing?

Very, very positive.   People continue to ask us for more content.  The online archive serves the needs of equine industry researchers like you, and it also serves the needs of family researchers and other historians who want to know about their relatives, or who study advertising trends, or track fashion trends, or other social history topics.  The DRF’s companion newspaper, The Morning Telegraph touts itself as “America’s Oldest Authority on Motion Pictures, Theatre, and the Turf.”  There is a wealth of social history research to be gleaned from the Telegraph

What’s next for the DRF archive?

I would like to secure funding to ramp up the project again.  When that is lined up, we will systematically, chronologically add to the online archive ensuring that the oldest, most fragile DRFs are converted first.  We would also like to begin the conversion process for The Morning Telegraph.

Many thanks to Becky for her work on this project as well as her help each time I have visited the Keeneland Library. Thank you for being a part of the blog, Becky!

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