Getting Started

What is Papers Past?

The Papers Past website is a collection of text items from New Zealand and the Pacific that you can search or browse. It contains millions of pages of material. We've organised the material into four collections - newspapers, magazines and journals, letters and diaries, and parliamentary papers.

You can switch between them at any time using the banner across the top of each page.

How do I find things on Papers Past?

You can find items in Papers Past by searching or browsing.

Searching lets you enter a term and see results that contain that term. This is a handy way to locate words or names in the material very quickly.

Search tools are on the left-hand side of the collection pages, look for the word "Search".

Browsing is useful if you need to find something specific, like an issue of a newspaper, or a letter from a particular date. This can be more methodical, but it relies on you being able to spot what you’re looking for.

Browse tools are to the right of the search tools, look for the word "Explore".

Searching Papers Past

Search is the quickest way to find information about a subject in Papers Past. You can enter numbers, letters, and spaces into the search box, and it will try to find matching results. For example:

• Mrs J Smith 280 Willis Street

Punctuation and case don't matter

Papers Past ignores punctuation and case when you search, so using either of the two terms below will give you identical results:

• mrs j smith

• Mrs J. Smith

How would it have appeared at the time of publication?

When using search, one important thing to keep in mind is that you’ll get the best results by constructing a search term that matches the words that would have appeared in the original material. Context is important.

You might be searching for Donald Henry Jones, but your query might work better if you think of how his name would have appeared in a newspaper, or in a letter, or a report – as D Jones, or Mr Jones, or Don Jones.

Different types of search

When you select the search box to type in a query, you can choose from three different types of search:

An "All of these words" search

This gives you more control via boolean search operators to get more specific results, such as:

• “Mrs J Smith” - putting your term in quotes searches for the exact phrase “Mrs J Smith”

This will give you results that only include articles with this exact string of characters, so for example an item using the term ‘Mrs Jane Smith’ would not necessarily be included.

• “Mrs J Smith” OR “Mrs l Smith”

This will give you results if they include either the exact phrase “Mrs J Smith”, or the exact phrase “Mrs I Smith”. OR can be used between any terms or phrases.

• (Smith OR Smythe) –born

This searches for articles containing either term, but will exclude items that also include the word “born”.

• (Smith OR Smythe) –born +Dunedin

This will give you results for either term, but will exclude the word “born” and include the word “Dunedin”.

• Smith~1

This will give you results for all words within one character of the word “smith” – for example, smjth. This is very useful when the computer-generated text recognition isn’t great. You can also use ~2 to increase the number of varying characters.

An "Any of these words" search

This will give you results even if it contains only one of the words you’ve searched for. This is the same as using OR between each search term.

A "This exact phrase" search

This will look for the exact pattern of characters and spaces you enter. This is the same as entering your search term in “quotation marks” using the “all of these words” search option above.

Filtering search results

After you have entered a search term, you can choose to limit your search to a particular date range. All the collections can be searched by date.

Other filters are specific to particular collections, so you will only see them on some search pages.

Example of research approach using search

The best approach to take when locating information using search is to be methodical – it can be helpful to start by using the broadest possible search term. For example:

• If you’re looking for a person, maybe start by searching only for their surname, to establish how many potential results their name might appear in.

• Then, examine the results you got, and consider how you might want to remove the irrelevant stuff. This might mean repeating the search but with a date filter applied, or by using one of the boolean techniques above, or adding in a keyword that relates to that person. Using the "show preview" button on the top-right above your list of search results is a very helpful way to assess the relevance of results quickly.

• Scan the results from the second search, and look at the number of results – this will give you a sense of whether you are getting closer to what you’re looking for, or if you should try a different approach.

• It might help to sort the list of results you get in different ways to help identify the items you’re interested in. The sort options are in the grey bar at the top of your search results. For example, sorting by date is a useful way to see events over time, whereas “best match” is useful if you’re using multiple terms or a boolean search.

Explore/Browse Papers Past

Sometimes you need to browse to a particular page or issue, or a specific publication title. Papers Past has pages for each of the collections that help you do this — these give you a browsable or sortable list of that collection's content.

• Explore Newspapers.

• Explore Magazines & Journals.

• Explore Letters & Diaries .

• Explore Parliamentary Papers.

Because the material in each collection is different, the ways you can browse are tailored, to suit that material. For example, newspapers can be specific to regions, whereas parliamentary papers are not.

You may also want to check out our Collection Statistics page for an overview of the collections on the site.

Printing material from Papers Past

You can print copies of articles.

Papers Past also lets you save PDFs of entire newspaper issues, or lets you save PDFs or high-resolution copies of whole pages.

To save or print use the breadcrumb trail at the top of the page just under the four collections links. Go to the item you are interested in. The links for saving a high-res image, PDF, or printing, are above the item you've chosen.

Useful tools and information on Papers Past article page

When you’ve arrived at an article item, you can find other useful tools and related information on the page around it.

• You can enable/disable search term highlighting using the lightbulb icon in the top-right corner of the article image.

• You can switch between views of the image, the text, or research information for referencing the item using the three tabs just above the article.

• You can see usage/copyright information under "Using this item" next to the article.

• There is a search box, on the top left of the page, which can search either the whole collection or just the issue or report your item is part of.

• To the right of the search button, there’s a breadcrumb trail which you can use to navigate to the whole collection, the newspaper title, the issue of the newspaper (including contents page), and the whole page containing the article you’re viewing.

Don't be shy about clicking around on things on screen to see what you can find, you can always get in touch with us if you have any questions.

Contact us

Freephone: 0800 474 300

Postal address:

Papers Past
National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
PO Box 1467
Wellington 6140
New Zealand