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The Catholic Sentinel goes digital

The Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle has moved its Sentinel archives online. From 1 October the publication will be available online, exactly 85 years since first going to print.

From 1931 until 1968 The Sentinel recorded the news of the Diocese of Maitland (as it was then known), reporting on the Catholic and secular communities, along with international news and editorial content.

Now, The Sentinel has been digitised using the latest Optical Character Recognition technology and added to Trove, a free online Australian database aggregator hosted by the National Library, Canberra.

Trove was launched in 2009 and is reported to have 70,000 users daily. The database enables free access to a myriad of Australian resources including newspapers, journals, pictures, diaries, maps, music, sound and videos, books, websites and government gazettes.

It was Frances Dunn, a parishioner in the Diocese who suggested these important documents be preserved as part of the Diocese's sesquicentenary, or 150th year celebrations. Frances discovered them when planning a pilgrimage in the footsteps of Bishop Murray (the Diocese's first bishop) for the 150th  year.

"When I saw the issues of The Sentinel for the first time they were stored in the archive of the Diocese in a series of folders that were really difficult to read, and even just to open," says Frances. "They were just so frail."

Frances only moved to the Diocese in recent years and had little idea of her family connections to the area. Recently, she discovered her great, great grandfather had donated five shillings to the construction of St John's Cathedral in 1846. This event turned her into a self-confessed "Trove Tragic"!

"It seemed to me that here was a wealth of information that would be very appealing to researchers, both Catholic and secular."

Frances enlisted the expertise of archivists at the Diocese and the National Library to locate two missing editions, and then to find the best way to preserve The Sentinel and make the editions accessible to the public.

The National Library determined that The Sentinel was a journal rather than a newspaper and therefore was not eligible for funding under the Newspaper Digitisation Program. Frances then spent considerable time searching for archival funding. That's when CCI stepped in with financial support for Optical Character Recognition to digitise and add the entire collection to Trove.

"This generous gesture was appreciated by all on the 150th Year Planning Team," says Frances.  With the launch of The Sentinel on Trove, Frances is excited about the potential of this unique system to create new links within the Diocese and to open this free research door.

"A lot of people have a connection to the Diocese," she says. "Perhaps they went to a Catholic school or their forebears were Catholic, but many find it difficult to access Church documents."

"I believe that while statistical information is valuable and available at a cost, newspapers and journals paint a broader social picture."

"I think it's the way forward," she adds. "I believe that in the coming years we'll search for this kind of information on databases like Trove rather than go to libraries. It's just so much more accessible."

"One of the other great advantages of databases like Trove is that publications like The Sentinel will be continually updated using the latest in digital technology. What a wonderful way to preserve our Catholic heritage," she says.

Like to know more? To access The Sentinel on Trove visit www.trove.nla.gov.au 

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