The Times Digital Archive represented a microcosm of information technology. From humble (rather crude) beginnings, it became a sleek vehicle on the information superhighway. When it first started, just a few years’ worth of The Times had been digitised.
To get a bit of cash flowing, libraries were offered reduced subscriptions while the digitisation-gnomes were loading up more and more years, until the span reached 200 years, from 1785 to 1985. At the same time the clunky, unreliable search-and-browse technology, not to mention the facilities for printing (frustratingly awful at first) were gradually improved until the database became the invaluable resource it is today. If I seem unduly critical of the early versions of the TDA, I freely acknowledge that it was pioneering stuff – the very idea of 200 years’ worth of daily newspapers being available in full facsimile was a positively futuristic concept at the time. It took the providers of other newspapers and magazines many years to catch up – indeed, some are still at it.
As 1985 receded into the past, the cut-off date became increasingly frustrating, especially as the scope of the printed newspaper expanded, with award-winning photography and many more background features and articles.
Our prayers have recently been answered – the database has been expanded to cover the years up to 2006. So many aspects of our lives which were missing – from late Thatcher to early Blair, from the Beirut hostages to the Kyoto Protocol – are now covered in depth. And, of course, thousands more of those fiendish crosswords!