The British Library is spending UK£2 million to put a collection of 19th century newspapers on line. The million or so pages of British newspapers will be published on a searchable website in 18 months time. All the material is out of copyright, and is thought to include The Morning Chronicle, famed for employing Dickens and Thackeray, and the Morning Post who featured articles by Coleridge and Wordsworth.
Ed King, Head of the British Library’s newspaper collections in Colindale commented, “The British Library is committed to making our collections accessible to as many people as possible. Before the world wide web existed, readers had to visit the newspaper archive in Colindale to look at all aspects of the collections … This means that digital copies will be available for web users who can explore these early out-of-copyright editions in their entirety.”
Ironically, the British Library auctioned off most of their newspaper collection, housed in Colindale, in a blind auction in 1999 after digitising them.
Nicholson Baker, author of The Mezzanine, voices his concerns about libraries digitising newspapers in his book “Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper”, as often the process does not capture the text clearly or accurately, or even feature enough resolution to properly reproduce the beautiful illustrations of the time. Often, limitations in scanning hardware mean that publications have to be cut up to be scanned, before being destroyed.
The opening up of this historical archive is very exciting indeed, and is bringing us a step closer to free online texts and books – “libraries without walls for books without pages”.