The IAPSOP Archive – Digital History

December 21, 2018 |  Tagged , , , | Comments Off on The IAPSOP Archive – Digital History

The digital archive “IAPSOP.com”  (The International Association for the Preservation of Spiritualist and Occult Periodicals) is an online resource that allows open access to a vast quantity of digitized newspapers, books, and journals written about Spiritualism and the occult.  The material they intend to preserve focuses on the period “between the Congress of Vienna (1814) and the start of the Second World War (1939)” and  covers publications most prominently from the United States but also France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.  The IAPSOP was formed in 2009 in an effort to digitally preserve Spiritualist and occult periodicals when the founding members noticed libraries began removing many of these materials from their collections.  This digital history project is open to exploration by students, researchers, and the general public, though it is solely online; the IAPSOP has no physical structure other than servers.

Currently, the archive contains more than 8,000 book-length texts that can be searched by title, author, or publication date via their downloadable corpus (http://www.iapsop.com/ssoc/).  Just as important, the IAPSOP also houses periodicals organized by publication title and numerous “mail order lessons” on becoming a Spiritualist written by historical “drivers” of the various movements.  All items housed within the database are scanned as PDFs and are backed up via Google Drive and Amazon Web Services – with additional copies held offline should their online repository services ever become disrupted.  The IAPSOP is kept running by a small unpaid board of directors and a network of student and researcher volunteers who offer their time scanning and categorizing occult materials.

The power of the IAPSOP is in the sheer quantity of material they have amassed in the past nine years; to read through their entire collection is an impossible task.  It also serves as a deterrent.  On the homepage are lists of periodicals recommended for beginners, grouped by national interest; but even these offerings provide a somewhat daunting endeavor for a newcomer.  I have had the opportunity to write to Marc Demarest (a director of the IAPSOP) and receive answers to my questions regarding website search functions and their online presence (or lack there of).  I asked if they would consider including an overarching timeline of major publications or highlights of the various movements their documents chronicle.  Understanding, of course, this would be a difficult challenge; as attempting to determine what is important is not necessarily the role of a standard archive.  Also noting there are no readymade links to profiles of – or works by – specific authors, rather they are simply organized by year of publication with a last name appended to the entry.  Mr. Demarest replied their primary users are either “working historians […] occult practitioners, or genealogists” and not the casual user.  As such, those seeking specific information should already have a basic understanding of research methods and be able to find what they need with little trouble – though anyone is welcome to send an e-mail inquiry.  Mr. Demarest also made it known the archive operates under a non-commercial-use Creative Commons license, essentially allowing users to extract the archive’s data and organize it however they see fit (as long as no monetization of the material occurs). 

Another feature that is currently not offered by the archive is transcribed text (a plain formatted text document to accompany the scans).  The materials that have been digitized are “full-text indexed” and as such, screen readers can make an attempt at “reading” the pages.  With some of the documents dating over 150 years old, it can make the voice synthesis process difficult/unintelligible  no matter how high quality the digital scan might be.  This would be a massive undertaking for the institution but Mr. Demarest has informed me that should an individual (or group) wish to supply the material, the IAPSOP would be willing to host it, if it is found useful. 

Finally, I asked Mr. Demarest why I had not seen a “strong social media presence” from the archive.  I believe my wording to be incorrect and wish to apologize for any implication which portrayed a social media presence is required.  My question would be better phrased as “What are the reasons the IAPSOP does not have social media accounts?” and Mr. Demarest had initially understood that to be my question and answered accordingly.  He informs me the IAPSOP spreads the word through their international community network, whether “e-mail, Slack, [or] the conference circuit” and that these members do a sufficient job of sharing the archive.  Because the archive is not attempting the reach the general public, he does not feel the need to delve into the “toxic” waters of social media and take on the yet-another daunting task of constantly updating multi-platform accounts.  I am inclined to agree with Mr. Demarest on “why make more work?”

Relying on volunteers and donations can severely limit the capabilities of digital history, though I am extremely grateful such an organization exists.  I would like to thank the IAPSOP board of directors and especially Marc Demarest for all of the time and effort they have put into the collection as well as taking a moment to answer my questions.  This has been a fantastic introduction into how digital history is changing the landscape of accessibility of research and I plan to offer my services whenever I have the opportunity in order to help preserve this catalog for future generations.


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