The British Library is already home to 52,000 local, regional, national and international newspaper titles spanning three centuries. Not surprisingly it has been called one of the world’s finest collections of newspapers, and every year it's used by 30,000 researchers in subjects ranging from family history and genealogy to sports statistics, politics and industrial history.
The problem being that this vast resource is held mainly in hard copy and microfilm, necessitating a trip to the north London Colindale site for people wishing to access it. Which is why the British Library’s Chief Executive, Dame Lynne Brindley, has announced a ten year partnership between the Library and online publisher brightsolid (which owns such online brands as Friends Reunited) which aims to deliver the most significant mass digitisation of newspapers the UK has ever seen.
The firm will digitise content from the British Library Newspaper Library, which it will then make available online via a paid-for website as well as integrating it into its family history websites. This resource will be available for free to users on-site at the British Library and copies of all scanned materials will be deposited with the Library to be held in the national collection in perpetuity.
Digitised material will include extensive coverage of local, regional and national press across three and a half centuries. It will focus on specific geographic areas, along with periods such as the census years between 1841 and 1911. Additional categories will be developed looking at key events and themes such as the Crimean War, the Boer War and the suffragette movement. The aim will be to build a ‘critical mass’ of material for researchers – particularly in the fields of family history and genealogy.
The partnership will enable the digitisation of a minimum of 4 million pages of newspapers over the first two years. Over the course of ten years, the agreement aims to deliver up to 40 million pages as the mass digitisation process becomes progressively more efficient and as in-copyright content is scanned following negotiation with rightsholders. "I am delighted to announce the British Library’s partnership with brightsolid to embark upon the most significant programme of newspaper digitisation this country has ever seen" said Dame Lynne. "Historic newspapers are an invaluable resource for historians, researchers, genealogists, students and many others, bringing past events and people to life with great immediacy and in rich detail. Mass digitisation unlocks the riches of our newspaper collections by making them available online to users across the UK and around the world; by making these pages fully searchable we will transform a research process which previously relied on scrolling through page after page of microfilm or print. brightsolid have an excellent track record of digitising archive materials and making them available to new audiences – I look forward to announcing the web service resulting from this partnership, which will launch and then steadily grow from next year".
Along with out-of-copyright material from the newspaper archive – defined in this context as pre-1900 newspaper material – the partnership will also seek to digitise a range of in-copyright material, with the agreement of the relevant rightsholders. This copyright material will, with the express permission of the publishers, be made available via the online resource – providing fuller coverage for users and a much-needed revenue stream for the rightsholders.
David Fordham, President of the Newspaper Society, says "This initiative is a hugely significant and exciting development which will unlock many of the great newspaper treasures that lie within the millions of pages in the British Library Newspaper archive at Colindale. It represents a particularly exciting opportunity for regional newspapers which have a long and rich heritage and capture changing times in local and regional areas across the centuries. I look forward to watching the project develop and hope that it makes a major contribution to the industry".