19 May 2010

Historic Newspapers: 40 million pages to digitize

A partnership between the British Library and online publisher brightsolid will digitize some 40 million pages of historic newspapers over 10 years.

According to the press release, brightsolid (FindMyPast, AncestorsOnboard, Friends Reunited and GenesReunited) is taking on the project's commercial and technical risks, with no direct costs to the British Library.

Some important points from the press release:

-- The firm will digitize content from the British Library Newspaper Library, which it will then make available online via a subscription website to launch next year. It will be available for free to users onsite at the British Library.

-- The goal, according to the press release, is to build a ‘critical mass’ of material for researchers – particularly in the fields of family history and genealogy."

-- The project will include out-of-copyright material from the
newspaper archive – pre-1900 newspaper material – and the partnership will also seek to digitize in-copyright material, with the agreement of relevant rightsholders. This copyrighted material will, with the publishers' express permission, be made available on the planned website.

-- The Library’s newspaper hard-copy collections will be moved from the current building at Colindale to a purpose-built storage facility (£33m funding) in Boston Spa, West Yorkshire. Access to the collection will be via microfilm and digital copies at the Library’s main site at St Pancras from 2012. Read more here.

-- It will help the collection remain relevant for a new generation of researchers, who are more used to accessing information via laptops than travelling to a physical location.

Copies of scanned materials will be held in the library in perpetuity.

Parts of this resource will be available online for the first time. The Library's collection spans 350 years and includes 52,000 local, regional, national and international titles. Its Newspaper Library in North London is used by 30,000 researchers in many subjects, including family history and genealogy, and the resources are mostly hard copy and microfilm.

A minimum of 4 million pages will be digitized in the first two years.

The Library's Dame Lynne Brindley outlined how the partnership will transform access to this collection and added that the success of the 19th Century British Library Newspapers website demonstrated the public’s huge appetite for digitized historic newspaper content:

“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.”
Digitized material will include extensive coverage of local, regional and national press across some 350 years, and will focus on specific geographic areas, along with periods such as the census years between 1841 and 1911. Other categories will be developed.

It will help the newspaper collection to remain relevant for a new generation of researchers, more used to accessing research information via their laptop than travelling to a physical location.”

Chris Paton's Scottish Ancestry has a five-minute video of the announcement.

Tracing the Tribe looks forward to more information on the planned new subscription website.

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