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History of British Library Newspapers

The Old Newspaper Reading Room in the British Museum

The Old Newspaper Reading Room in the British Museum. Sell's Dictionary of the World's Press 1893. Copyright © The British Library Board

 Historical Overview of British Library Newspapers

The British Museum began collecting newspapers systematically during the 1820s. By the end of the nineteenth century, however, there was no storage space left, and in the British Museum Bill of 1900 it was proposed that the collections of provincial newspapers should be disposed of. Fortunately, this aroused considerable opposition, and instead a site was purchased at Colindale in the north London suburbs and a Newspaper Repository was built. Opening in 1905, this became the home of English provincial, Welsh, Scottish, and Irish newspapers. London newspapers and overseas titles remained in the main British Museum building at Great Russell Street in Bloomsbury. There were no facilities for readers, so a weekly transport system consisting, at first, of a horse-drawn wagon, and from 1913 a motor van, delivered newspaper volumes to readers in the Newspaper Reading Room in the British Museum.

After about twenty years the Repository was full. In 1928 the Royal Commission on National Museums and Galleries recommended that a purpose-built newspaper library, with facilities for readers, should be constructed at Colindale. This was completed in May 1932. The new British Museum Newspaper Library contained a public reading room with space for fifty-six readers, a bindery, and an additional storage building on six floors. All the British Museum's newspapers were transferred to Colindale, with the exception of pre-1801 London newspapers and newspapers in oriental languages.

The British Museum Newspaper Repository

The British Museum Newspaper Repository

The Repository building was destroyed by bombing on 20 October 1940, along with an estimated 6,000 volumes of English provincial and Irish newspapers, mainly from the late 19th century. Two temporary buildings were erected at the end of the War to provide replacement storage space, and these are still in use today. Plans for a new building to replace the Repository were begun in 1943, but not put into effect until 1957 when the 'new wing' was finally completed. In the last few decades the Reading Rooms have been extended, a purpose-built microfilming unit and a specially designed microfilm reading area have been opened. In 1996, a further reading room extension, known as the New Reading Room, was opened which includes facilities which provide networked access to online newspapers and newspapers on CD-ROM. In 1973, the Newspaper Library, along with the other library departments of the British Museum, became part of the newly-formed British Library.

 Chronology of Key Dates in the History of the Newspaper Library

  • 1822 : Newspapers are passed to the British Museum from the Stamp Office.
  • 1869 : Newspaper Printers and Reading Rooms Act: newspapers to be deposited by publishers at the British Museum.
  • 1897 : Space for newspapers in the British Museum at Bloomsbury exhausted.
  • 1900 : British Museum Bill authorising the disposal of pre-1837 newspapers is withdrawn after protests.
  • 1902 : British Museum Act authorising purchase of the Colindale site.
  • 1903 : British Museum Newspaper Repository completed as a warehouse for English provincial, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh newspapers.
  • 1905 : Newspaper Repository opened.
    A weekly horse and cart delivery of newspapers from Colindale to Bloomsbury.
  • 1922 : Newspaper Repository is full.
  • 1928 : Royal Commission on National Museums and Galleries Interim Report recommends that the Colindale Repository be enlarged to contain all newspapers published later than 1800 and that a reading room be built.
  • 1930 : Building of the library commences.
  • 1932 - Aug 23 : British Museum Newspaper Library is opened.
    All newspapers are transferred from Bloomsbury to Colindale, except for the pre-1801 London newspapers in the Burney Collection, and newspapers in oriental scripts.
  • 1940 - Oct 20 : A Luftwaffe bomb destroys the 1903 building. An estimated 6,000 volumes of newspapers are also destroyed and a further 15,000 volumes are damaged.
  • 1950 : Two temporary storage buildings (sheds) are built as well as a microfilm annexe to house equipment donated by the Rockefeller Foundation of New York.
  • 1951 : Temporary buildings are full.
  • 1956 : New extension to the Library is commenced: the 'new wing'.
  • 1957 : New extension is finished with space up until 1970.
  • 1959 : Post of Superintendent is upgraded to Senior Executive Officer and is filled by Peter Allen.
  • 1969 : of the foreign newspaper collection begins.
  • 1971 : New Microfilm building is completed.
  • 1972 : Middle Reading Room, staff canteen, and the public cafeteria are built on the site of the old microfilm annexe.
  • 1973 : British Library is established. All library departments of the British Museum are formed into the new national library of the United Kingdom.
  • 1975 : Catalogue of the Newspaper Library Colindale, compiled by P.E. Allen, is published in eight volumes.
    First volume of the Bibliography of British Newspapers (Wiltshire) is published.
  • 1976 : Study into the future policy of the Newspaper Library by Andrew Phillips is published.
  • 1977 : A consultation paper, The Newspaper Collections and the Future, is published.
  • 1979 : The Plan for the Newspaper Collections published. Working Party on Access to Newspapers is established.
  • 1980 : First curatorial post in the Newspaper Library is established when John Westmancoat is appointed as Information Officer.
    First edition of the British Library Newspaper Library Newsletter is published, which becomes Newspaper Library News in 1997.
    International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) Working Group on Newspapers is established.
  • 1981 : Retirement of Peter Allen.
    First professional Head of the Newspaper Library is appointed: Stephen Green.
  • 1982 : Fifty years of service to readers and libraries commemorated.
  • 1983 : Report of the Working Party on Access to Newspapers published.
    First NEWSPLAN project established.
    British Library Consultative Group on Newspapers is set up.
  • 1985 : Eve Johannson is appointed Head of the Newspaper Library.
    New Microfilm Reading Area opened.
    120 Colindale Avenue is leased.
  • 1986 : First of the NEWSPLAN reports is published (South West).
  • 1987 : First international symposium on newspaper preservation and access is organised by IFLA.
  • 1989 : Geoffrey Hamilton is appointed Head of the Newspaper Library.
  • 1991 : Newspaper Library becomes responsible for the Newspaper Legal Deposit Office at 120 Colindale Avenue, formerly administered by the Copyright Receipt Office.
  • 1994 : Geoff Smith is appointed Head of the Newspaper Library and Newspaper Librarian.
    Conversion of the Newspaper Library catalogue to machine-readable form is commenced.
    A high density store for positive microfilm is built.
  • 1995 : Conversion of the catalogue is completed.
  • 1996 : Erection of two-storey prefabricated building with reader facilities on the first floor - the 'New Reading Room' - providing twenty-nine extra reader places.
    Final NEWSPLAN report is published (London and South Eastern Library Region).
    British Library Newspapers website is established.
  • 1997 : John Byford is appointed Head of the Newspaper Library and Newspaper Librarian.
    A Closed Circuit Television system is installed in the Reading Rooms.
    Structural damage necessitates the destruction of the former official residence of the Superintendent, to the west side of the Newspaper Library site, built in 1903.
  • 1999 : The Heritage Lottery Fund awards a grant of £5 million to NEWSPLAN.
    Edmund King is appointed Head of the Newspaper Library and Newspaper Librarian.
    An online catalogue of the collections is made available in the Reading Rooms.
  • 2000 : The Newspapers catalogue of over 52,000 newspaper and periodical title holdings is launched on the web.
British Library Newspapers building in the 1980s

British Library Newspapers building in the 1980s

 Select Bibliography on the History of British Library Newspapers

  • '1932-1982: 50 Years Service to Readers and the Public', British Library Newspaper Library Newsletter, 5 (Autumn 1982): 1-3.
  • 'British Library Newspaper Library Services and Collections in 1998', Newspaper Library News, 25 (Winter 1998/1999): 15.
  • 'British Library Newspaper Library Services and Collections: January to June 1999', Newspaper Library News, 26 (Summer 1999): 14.
  • 'British Library Newspaper Library Services and Collections: January to June 2000', Newspaper Library News, 28 (Summer 2000): 14-15.
  • 'British Library Newspaper Library Services and Collections: July to December 1999', Newspaper Library News, 27 (Winter 1999/2000): 14-15.
  • 'British Library Newspaper Library Services and Collections: July to December 2000', Newspaper Library News, 29 (Winter 2000/2001): 12-14.
  • 'Review of Activities at the Newspaper Library in 1987', British Library Newspaper Library Newsletter, 9 (January 1988): 5, 7.
  • [Janice Anderson], 'The Newspaper Library' in: The British Library (London: British Library, 1983), pp. 38-41.
  • J.O. Baylen, 'Some Recollections of the British Library Newspaper Library since the 1950s', Newspaper Library News, 25 (Winter 1998/1999): 3-4.
  • Alan Day, The New British Library (London: Library Association Publishing, 1994), pp. 99-108.
  • Eamon Dyas, 'The Early Development of the Newspaper Library', British Library Newspaper Library Newsletter, 10 (June 1989): 4-6.
  • Elizabeth Ellis, The British Library Newspaper Library, 1973-1986, Unpublished M.A. Thesis (Loughborough University, 1986).
  • Stewart Gillies, '90 years of Colindale', British Library Newspaper Library Newsletter, 20 (Winter 1995/1996): 9-11.
  • Stephen Green, 'The Newspaper Collections of the British Library', in: Sources for American History in U.K. Libraries, ed. Alison Cowden and John Pinfold, Proceedings of a Conference of the SCONUL Advisory Committee on American Studies, Held at the American Embassy, London, on 2 December, 1983 (London: SCONUL Advisory Committee on American Studies, 1985), pp. 13-18.
  • Stephen Green, 'The British Library's Newspaper Library in a New Era', Journal of Newspaper and Periodical History, 1(1) (Winter 1984): 4-11.
  • Geoffrey Hamilton, 'A Ticket to History', British Book News (April 1990): 242-244.
  • Michael Harris, 'Collecting Newspapers: Developments at the British Museum During the Nineteenth Century', in: Bibliophily, ed. Robin Myers and Michael Harris (Cambridge: Chadwyck-Healey, 1986), pp.44-62
  • P.R. Harris, A History of the British Museum Library 1753-1973 (London: British Library, 1998), pp. 271-273, 327-328, 355-356, 376-378, 468-473, 568-569, 601-602.
  • F.J. Hill, 'Newspapers' in: 'The Shelving and Classification of Printed Books' in: The Library of the British Museum: Retrospective Essays on the Department of Printed Books, ed. P.R. Harris (London: British Library, 1991), pp. 50-54, 57.
  • Eve Johannson, 'The British Library Newspaper Library: Looking Ahead', Journal of Newspaper and Periodical History, 2(3) (Summer 1986): 34-37.
  • Huw Richards, 'History Stored in Column Inches', Times Higher Education Supplement (1 December 1991): 7.
  • Gareth Weekes, 'There's No News Like the Old News: A Remarkable Library at Colindale is Celebrating its 50th Anniversary', Hendon Times (16 September 1982): 10.

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