Data Surfer

Sites you need to see

The Federal Communications Commission recently unveiled its national plan to expand to broadband access to the Internet. According to the FCC, it's not enough to bring the Net to underserved populations, it's important to raise their "digital literacy," so that they may better utilize the important, if not vital, information resources that are online. 

Part of digital literacy is knowing how to judge the accuracy, credibility and usefulness of web sites. With hundreds of thousands of sources on coutless topics, it's pretty daunting for the average person (and the professional) to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Here's one bit of help: The American Library Association has been compiling an annual list of The Best Free Reference Web Sites, a really good bibliography of material that is authoritative, useful and interesting. The list covers a broad range of topics: science, health, media, the arts, law, government, education, etc. The 2010 listing has just been released. And there's also a combined index of previous annual lists going back to 1999.

Barbasol.jpgHere's a pop culture quiz: what do the following phrases have in common?

"I like Barbasol so well I shave all over."
"It's New! It's Lilt!"
"Are your teeth alluring, too?"

They're all magazine advertising slogans published in the 1950s. And they're all part of an online collection of over 7,000 U.S. and Canadian print ads housed at the Duke University Libraries. This image database covers five product areas (beauty and hygiene, radio and television sets, transportation and World War II propaganda) and spans 1911-1955. The ads feature many well-known brands that have existed for decades (like Ivory Soap, Crest, Greyhound Bus and Listerine), as well as those that have vanished from the marketplace (Burma-Shave, Wildroot, Braniff). The Duke collection is searchable by product name, company, general category and date range.

If printed magazine advertising seems a little old-fashioned to you, Duke also has an online collection of vintage television commericals dating from the 1950s to the 1980s. These are well-indexed and playable in your web browser.

December 24, 2009
Happy Holidays!


[Night view of K Street with Christmas decorations, 1947. Eugene Hepting Collection. See the Center for Sacramento History for more vintage photographs and other materials.]

Weinstocks.jpg The Library of Congress and the National Endowment of the Humanities co-sponsor an effort to preserve electronically historic U.S. newspapers housed in the LOC. The National Digital Newspaper Program has scanned over 1 million pages and makes many of them them accessible to the public through the "Chronicling America" web site. So far the online collection includes only newspapers from 15 states that were published between 1880 and 1922. (Titles after 1922 are generally protected by copyright.) The material is full-text searchable, so visitors to the site are able to retrieve pages by entering words and phrases into a search function.  

Several California papers are among the digitized newspapers, including the San Francisco Morning Call, the Amador Ledger and the San Mateo Item. The only ones representing Sacramento are the Daily Record-Union (1875-1991) and Record-Union (1891-1903), predecessors of the modern Sacramento Union which ended daily publication in 1994.

[Weinstock's advertisement appeared in the Nov. 24, 1887 edition of the Sacramento Daily Record-Union.]


Reuters has reported that the ambitious Encyclopedia of Life has amassed 170,000 entries. EOL's goal is to catalog all of the earth's 1.8 million known species of plants and animals. The project serves both amateurs and professionals by providing photographs and essential information on the characteristics and behavior of each species. California's flora and fauna are well represented in the database. Take a look at the valley oak and the western scrub-jay -- both common to the Sacramento region.

algiers.gifA multilingual, multinational online exhibit of artifacts from across the globe and across the centuries launched today. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cutural Organization (UNESCO) debuted the World Digital Library, an growing collection of manuscripts, maps, rare books, musical scores, recordings, films, prints, photographs, architectural drawings and other items. WDL started with 1,200 documents but can accommodate as many documents as countries care to contribute. 

The web site is free to access and easy to navigate. You can browse by topic, geography, document type, time period and institutional source. Specific items may be found with full-text searching. Each item is accompanied by well-written descriptions and extensive subject headings.

WDL is the brain-child of James Billington, the U.S. Librarian of Congress. He conceived of an international counterpart to the successful American Memory digital library project, which boasts 15 million historical artifacts online. Incidentally, California has its own state-level digital collection, the Online Archive of California (OAC) with over 120,000 images and 50,000 pages of documents, letters, and oral histories. Even our fair city has its own electronic resource: Sacramento History Online.

(Photochrome print: Great Mosque in the Marine Street, Algiers, Algeria, circa 1899.)

December 31, 2008
Happy New Year!


Silver Creek Dance Hall at 4th and K Streets on New Years 1936. This image is part of the Faces and Places of Sacramento neighborhood history photograph project at the Sacramento Archives and Museum Collection Center. You can search for photos by keywords on their web site.

JSt.JPGAfter my last blog on the fabulous Life Magazine image database, I ought to at least mention two fine online collections of Sacramento and California-related photographs.

The Online Archive of California pulls together historic materials from many institutions in the state, including museums, historical societies and archives. The OAC gives you access to over 120,000 images (photos, paintings and other illustrations), as well as 50,000 pages of documents, letters, and oral histories. An image search page lets you browse by broad category (places, people, history, etc.) or enter a keyword for a more targeted search. A quick hunt for "earthquake 1906" retrieves dozens of disturbing photographs of San Francisco destruction.

On the local level, Sacramento History Online provides web access to a collection of photographs, maps, technical drawings, manuscripts, posters, postcards, book and periodical illustrations. SHO contains material contributed by the California State Library's California History Section, the California State Railroad Museum Library, the Sacramento Archives and Museum Collection Center, and the Sacramento Public Library's Sacramento Room. The emphasis is on transportation and agriculture (1840-1939), but these themes encompass a variety of views of the city. (Photo caption: Looking east on J St., Sacramento, showing bank buildings. © Sacramento Archives and Museum Collection Center.) 

About Data Surfer

It's all about information -- statistics, documents and data of all types that help us understand the world, make informed decisions and monitor government. It's about empowering citizens with tools and sources so they can conduct their own investigative research. This blog is a place to discuss information that's available on the Internet. What's relevant, useful, valid and accurate -- and what's not.

We know the Sacramento region is home to knowledgeable people who use online information in their respective fields. We want to hear from you. Please tell us what you think of the data we use in stories and post on The Bee's website. And share tips about online resources you think are valuable to this blog's readers. Post comments on this blog or contact Pete Basofin directly at

June 2010

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