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Preserving the national newspaper collection for the future

30,000 people from all walks of life use the national newspaper collection every year. The British Library is acting to give people better access to this 'first draft of history' - and to preserve it for future generations.

Fact file

  • The British Library holds the finest newspaper collection in the world
  • We have major coverage of the UK and our main trading partners over the past 300 years
  • Many items we hold do not exist anywhere else
  • Our newspapers, journals and microfilm occupy 48km of shelving
  • The collection comprises 52,000 newspaper, journal and periodical titles
  • The collection dates back to 1513 - the first news account printed in Britain
  • We receive a free copy of every issue of UK newspapers and magazines through Legal Deposit - that's 13,000 issues a month
  • Our holdings of Commonwealth papers are remarkable, and include 50 years of the Friend of India , and from the 1780s Hicky's Bengal Gazette and the Jamaica-based Royal Gazette

Who reads yesterday's papers?

  • The newspaper collections are used by 30,000 researchers a year
  • 43% are pursuing family history, local history, sport or other personal interest - and the number of such researchers is growing, stimulated by TV programmes and the Olympics
  • 29% are doing research for school, college or university, covering subjects across the humanities, social sciences and sciences
  • 13% are from the creative industries, including TV, the press, authors and picture researchers - including recent TV news researchers wanting reports of the 1918 'flu pandemic
  • 7% are from the business world, including researchers from law firms - for example, the Bloody Sunday enquiry researched reporters' accounts of 13 January 1972

What do they read?

  • 200,000 issues are consulted each year
  • 56% of material consulted is local papers from the UK and Ireland - e.g. the Sunderland Echo
  • 31% is British and Irish national titles - e.g. the Daily Herald .
  • 13% is from overseas
  • 81% of the overseas titles consulted were written in English - e.g. the Chinese-based Celestial Empire
  • 41% were published in the US - e.g. the Philadelphia Inquirer
  • 35% of all overseas papers consulted were published in the Commonwealth - e.g. the Antigua Magnet

Safeguarding the nation's memory

  • 50% of people in Britain had appeared in local or national papers at some time in their lives
  • 40% of them had kept the cuttings themselves
  • 90% of respondents believed that it was important that a national collection of newspapers was available for future generations
  • This figure remained consistent across every region of the country, and across various sectors of the community

Source: Survey commissioned by the British Library. Ipsos MORI undertook 1,010 interviews, by telephone using random digit dialling, between 27 and 29 January 2006. The data were weighted by age, sex and work status to be representative of the GB adult population.

The challenges we face

  • Newspaper s deteriorate quickly because of the poor quality of the paper that they are printed on
  • The newspaper store and Reading Room is in Colindale, north London
  • The building is 70 years old, completely full, and too expensive to modify
  • Current storage conditions in Colindale are poor with little temperature and humidity control
  • Use of the newspapers by researchers causes further deterioration
  • 15% collection of the collection cannot be used because it's too fragile
  • A further 19% of the collection is in poor condition, and will soon have to be withdrawn from use
  • The services we are able to offer in Colindale are costly and inefficient.
  • All these factors limit people's use of an important national resource

The solutions

We are working towards:

  • Providing a newspaper service at St Pancras
  • Improving storage facilities for the collection
  • Enabling online access

Providing a service at St Pancras

  • 95% of newspapers researchers want to use them in St Pancras
  • Readers want to use them alongside other sources - books, journals, e-resources
  • They are prepared to use microform or digital copies
  • Existing St Pancras Readers would use newspapers for their research if they were more easily available
  • We would provide the service using digital and microform copies
  • We've microfilmed 30% of the collection and digitised 1%
  • Use of the collection is extremely broad - the top 20 most popular titles make up only 23% of all those requested
  • To provide an effective service we would need to copy 70% of the collection
  • The remaining 30% is low-use material which would be copied on demand

Improving storage facilities

  • Providing digital and microfilm copies to researchers at St Pancras has the added benefit of protecting the originals from further wear and tear.
  • The originals will be transferred to storage that conforms to the archival environmental standard: BS5454:2000.
  • We are doing a detailed cost benefit analysis of two options: a newly-constructed building at the Library's site in Boston Spa, Yorkshire, similar to the new automated, high-density low-oxygen units about to be built there; the lease of storage facilities outside London .
  • We are asking the Government to fund this storage element of our newspaper strategy

Enabling online access

  • Our ambition is to digitise the best of our historical collection and make it much more widely accessible on the web
  • We've been working at the forefront of newspaper digitisation for over a decade, testing innovative new software in partnership with leading-edge producers
  • Digitisation opens up great opportunities for access, but there are discussions relating to copyright which must be concluded before we can digitise our 20th-century newspaper titles - we are currently digitising pre-1900 content only
  • We're talking to the newspaper industry about providing the Library with a digital feed of new papers, so that the storage issues which currently beset us won't continue to grow in the future
  • We've put the full run of the 19th-century Penny Illustrated Paper into the online database 'British Library 19th century newspapers', part of the Library's partnership with Gale Cengage. It will be available free in our Reading Rooms
  • We've digitised one million pages of British and Irish newspapers 1600-1800: these are available free in British Library Reading Rooms
  • We've digitised two million pages of 19th-century British newspapers from 48 newspapers, with the support of the Higher Education Funding Councils' Joint Information Systems Committee. This service launched to the UK HE/FE sector in 2007, and is available free in our Reading Rooms
  • Our public newspapers website will be launched in early 2009
  • We'll continue to seek funding opportunities, permissions and partnerships to digitise a diverse range of further papers
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