British Library archive with 750 million newspaper and magazine pages to open today

A collection of more than 750 million pages of newspapers and magazines and 4.8 million archived websites will open today.

The free national newspaper collection, contained in the £33 million British Library Newsroom, dates as far back as the English Civil War and fills more than 20 kilometres of shelf space.

With access to newspapers on digital and microfilm on offer, along with collections of TV and radio broadcast news and the archiving one billion UK domain web pages per year, it promises to be a valuable source of information for researchers and anyone studying every aspect of local, regional and national life, the British Library (BL) claims.

The newsroom, complete with a new reading room and research space for the BL's news collections in St Pancras (above: Reuters), North London, is being opened tonight by Culture Secretary Sajid Javid.

BL chief executive Roly Keating said: "Newspapers are often described as the 'first draft of history' – in fact, in many cases they are the raw material of history and very often the only record that exists of an event or an individual that otherwise would have been forgotten.

"The British Library's newspaper collection is a vital part of the memory of the nation – recording every aspect of local, regional and national life, and continuing to grow at a rate of more than seven metres every week.

"The opening of the Newsroom means that news and newspapers are no longer the Cinderella of the Library's collections, but are now at the very heart of the British Library's offering to researchers.

"By moving the collection out of Colindale and into the world-class storage facility at Boston Spa, we're ensuring this vast, precious and incredibly fragile resource is available not just for today's researchers, but also future generations."

The Newsroom has 40 digital microfilm viewers, and its information store includes 7.8 million scanned pages of historic newspapers and a growing collection of over 40,000 TV and radio broadcast news programmes, which is increasing at a rate of 60 hours every day across 22 news channels.

As part of the newspaper programme the fragile print collection was moved from outdated buildings at Colindale, North London, and into a purpose-built, robotic storage facility at the BL's site at Boston Spa, West Yorkshire.

Its new home is temperature and humidity-controlled so that the 60 million issues of newspapers, most of which were produced on cheap, low quality paper that was meant to be read once then thrown away, may stand a chance of lasting well in to the future

It is also a low-oxygen environment to cut the risk of fire. The huge storage void is off-limits to humans to help maintain this atmosphere where oxygen is reduced from 21 per cent to between 14-15 per cent.

The newspapers are stored in 20-metre-high racks and are fetched by robotic cranes that deliver them, via an air-lock, to a staffed retrieval area.

From autumn 2014, where no microfilm or digital copy of a newspaper exists, print newspapers will be retrieved and delivered to researchers in the St Pancras Newsroom within 48 hours.

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