By Ken Fox
Like Newspapers? Well Library PressDisplay, available to all Saskatchewan public library users, has 400 major dailies from around the world, including The Leader Post, The Star Phoenix, Prince Albert Daily Herald, Moose Jaw Times Herald, and many other popular Canadian titles.
You will need to get a public library card. For general advice on how to access online resources from public libraries in Saskatchewan, see my earlier post on that topic.
To access PressDisplay from Saskatoon, go to the Digital Media page, scroll down to the list of available Digital Media Resources, find the yellow-shaded PressDisplay description, and click on the title.
For regional libraries, start from your e-Resources page – I provided links in an earlier post. From there, click on the heading “Newspapers and Magazines” – links to PressDisplay and other news sources will pop up.
The content of PressDisplay overlaps with other news sources, but with a different emphasis. PressDispay is the best source if you want to simply read the daily “paper.”
The front page is a general news feed, organized by topic, with leading stories from various major papers. It is a busy page, dense with dozens of pictures and headings, but will probably load ok, depending on your connection.
There is a subject menu at the top of the far left column, with links to News, Business, Sports, Entertainment, and “Editorial & More.”
In the right-hand column, there is a “Readers versus Editors” personalization feature, with a pointer allowing you to “weigh” the news feed between “Reader’s Choice” and “Editors’ Picks,” and a second slider to lean more toward “All Sources” versus “Librarian’s Picks.” I’m not sure exactly how the weighing is accomplished, but sliding towards “Librarian’s Picks” is a quick way to orient the feed toward local and national stories, rather than national and international.
The quickest way to read a particular paper in full is to find an article somewhere in the main feed and click on the title of the paper in green text, perhaps assisted by CTRL-F. Another way is through the “Publication by Country” menu in the left-hand pane. If you select Canada from the list, you get a display of almost 400 covers of Canadian newspapers and magazines. The default sort is by Popularity, which places major dailies like the Toronto Star and Globe & Mail near the top. You can also sort by Title or Currency.
The front page also has an 8-day calendar running left-to-right at the top of the center frames, with a green slider so you can choose to read a previous day’s news. For individual papers, there is a drop-down “Calendar” in the menu bar that allows you to select a past issue – the size of the issue archive varies by paper, but is generally one to three months.
There is a search engine that allows you to limit by country, language, author, date, and search in either headlines or full articles. The default operator is AND (search engine looks for articles with all of your terms), but there is an “Advanced Query” option that allows for phrases (exact matches) or OR (“at least one of the words”) searches. The results display in a text-only box, which means you don’t need to load an entire edition of a newspaper to read the article. One difficulty I encountered is that the searchable content is limited to recent articles (again, a one to three month archive, depending on the sourced paper), but the searchable index is unlimited – which means if you broaden the time span to search for older articles, many of the hits will lead to dead links (although you have still learned of the article’s existence). To research Canadian stories or articles on a particular topic, you might be better off using a database such as the CPIQ.
PressDisplay does its best to replicate the look of a physical “paper” – and as such has some rather strange layout features. It presents the image of a white “page” against the grey background of the homepage. It uses traditional newspaper columns, five columns wide in the case of the front page of the Globe & Mail – so the print, at a little over an inch per column, is tiny, forcing the user to navigate using the zoom/text size feature, which requires a bit of patience to get used to. The simplest strategy is probably to click on the magnifying glass once to get a large print size, then use the click-&-drag feature to move the page around, which can be frustrating until you get the hang of it.
There are ads embedded in the content (again, like a print paper), which have an eerie, museum-like quality that reminds me of looking at very old newspapers through micro-film, the effect of looking at images that have passed over into a different era and a different medium (except they are today’s ads).
The page display also carries over the “linking” formats of print newspapers – alternate headings at the end of a column with a “continued at” reference, front-page list of features to be found “inside” various sections. Mercifully, these references are hyperlinked (unlike the footnoted cross-references in many online academic journals).
There is a drop-down table of contents in the menu bar, that displays main headings with traditional newspaper page references (e.g, “E10 – Classified”). If you scroll over the headings you get a clickable list of headlines with page references. Clicking on the title pulls up the article text in a separate box. There is also a “Thumbnail” view to the right of the screen, but at least for the three papers I viewed today, it is unpopulated.
While well-endowed with sophisticated search and navigation features, PressDisplay, in its current form, represents a strange, and probably brief, transitional phase in online reading. In order to effectively replicate the experience of reading a “newspaper,” it adds an unnecessary layer of mediation between reader and content, and sacrifices much of the speed and ease of online navigation. It is slick and shiny, but also cumbersome and awkward.
So if reading a daily “paper” on your computer screen is your thing, enjoy it now. It is a format that was born obsolete, and I don’t imagine it’ll be around more than a few short years.