New Digital Home for a Venerable Quaker Journal
Gabriel Ehri '00 with 55 boxes of old Friends Journal issues and the thumb drive that the new digital archive now fits on.
Quaker & Special Collections has digitized the more than 1,000-issue archive of Friends Journal, making a six-decade record of Quaker life and ideas easily accessible.
When Gabriel Ehri ’00, the executive director of Friends Publishing Corporation, looked at the 1,100-issue archive of the organization’s flagship magazine, Friends Journal, he saw a rich repository of history. A general-interest magazine of Quaker thought, Friends Journal began publishing in 1955 and has a worldwide readership. But unless interested readers and researchers could come to the Journal’s Philadelphia offices, that six-decade record of Quaker life and ideas was out of reach.
So, Ehri turned to Quaker & Special Collections in the College’s Magill Library for help. With the aid of Special Collections Head John Anderies and his staff, Ehri and his Friends Publishing colleagues came up with a plan to scan and digitize the entire archive of Friends Journal, from its beginnings to today. “The FPC donated our archive of loose issues to the project, which involved disbinding (cutting the spines off) and running the pages through a sheetfed scanner,” says Ehri. “This required a lot of student labor this summer!”
Taking on the bulk of the job was library student worker Thomas Littrell ’15. “He was both dogged in his willingness to perform repetitive tasks for days on end and savvy about coming up with shortcuts to streamline the process,” Anderies says. “We learned a lot about manipulating large numbers of very large files with this work.”
“The most challenging aspect of the project was designing procedures that could efficiently manage and process 35,000 pages spread over 1,100 issues,” says Littrell. “To give one example, I had to perform optical character recognition on each pdf to make it full-text searchable, and this would have taken a week if done with one computer.” So Littrell came up with the idea to split the pdfs over five different computers. He commandeered the third tier of Magill for a couple days and got the job done quickly. “My favorite aspect of the project was designing a series of these procedures coupled with a sense of accomplishment at seeing 55 boxes of magazines reduced to pdfs that can be easily accessed and searched by users,” he says.
Ehri, who is a member of the Haverford College Corporation, which holds legal title to the College assets and is devoted to strengthening Haverford’s Quaker character, has his own long history with Friends Journal, which has featured a distinctive black and white cover since its beginning. It was a constant in his home as boy (his parents were subscribers) and he read the magazine regularly throughout his student years at Haverford thanks to a gift subscription from his meeting in Seattle.
A Haverford English major and a former news editor for the Bi-College News, Ehri worked for an internet start-up after graduation and began his career with Friends Publishing Corporation in 2004, starting as a project and database manager and later working on marketing, circulation and technology projects. The new digital magazine archive is one technology project Ehri is excited about.
“An entire vanload of boxed magazines has been distilled into what will fit on a single thumb drive,” says Ehri. “And it’s radically more accessible that way!”
The archive will soon be available to Tri-College community members, Quaker-affiliated Earlham and Guilford colleges, as well as Friends Journal subscribers through the organization’s website, says Anderies. “Another neat thing about this arrangement is that we’ll serve as an archive for the journal going forward,” he says. “As the Friends Journal staff completes each new issue, they’ll be able to automatically upload it for long-term archiving.”