British Library to Put 100 Years of News Online

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”.

The British Library

Archivists respond to Nicholson Baker

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Fraser Lovatt

Fraser Lovatt has spent the last fifteen years working in publishing, TV and the Internet in various capacities, and believes that they will be seperate platforms for at least a while yet. His main interests at the moment are exploring where Linux is taking home entertainment and how technology is conferring technical skills on more and more people. Fraser Lovatt was born in the same year that 2001: A Space Odyssey was delighting and confusing people in the cinemas, and developed a lifelong love of technology as soon as he realised that things could be taken apart, sometimes put back together again, but mostly left in bits or made into something the original designer hadn't quite planned upon. At school he was definitely in the ZX Spectrum/Magpie/BMX camp, rather than the BBC Micro/Blue Peter/well-behaved group. This is all deeply ironic as he later went on to spend nine years working at the BBC. After a few years of working as a bookseller in Scotland, ("Back when it was actually a skilled profession" he'll tell anyone still listening), he moved to England for reasons he can't quite explain adequately to himself. After a couple of publishing jobs punctuated by sporadic bursts of travelling and photography came the aforementioned nine years at the BBC where he specialised in internet technologies and video. These days his primary interests are Java, Linux, videogames and pies - and if they're not candidates for convergence, then what is?