The British Library is putting the finishing touches to a website that will give journalists and academics access to two million pages from 43 newspapers from the 19th century.
The library will launch its newspaper digitisation project next month, which will give readers access to electronic versions of every national, regional and locally important newspaper from 1800 to 1900. Though tailored for further and higher education students and academics, general readers will be able to log on for a small subscription fee.
The site will focus on the London-based national newspapers, but will also show pages from Scotland, Wales and Ireland as well as specialist titles such as radical Chartist newspapers.
The library receives a copy of every magazine and newspaper in the country, but previously they were only available to read in its London-based reading room.
The electronic archive will be searchable, allowing reporters and students to get hold of daily reports on specific topics and events quickly.
General readers will be able to access the site but the library has said there will be some kind of paid-for subscription service for repeated viewings.
Ed King, head of newspaper collections at the library, said: 'The planning for this began in 2003 and it fully started in 2004. We had three main areas we wanted to cover: one, to include titles from all over the UK so we could satisfy the greatest number of people; two, that no one part of the country was excluded, that we cover all of and three, that if we added a title we ensure we add the whole run. We learned from experience that if you keep only one year that might be the thing the reader wants."
King said that the service will only extend to 1900 because of the library's respect for UK copyright law, though he said he was in talks with key figures in the newspaper industry about the possibility of extending it in future.
He said: 'I'm not a lawyer. One of the reasons we did not go further is because we recognise the rights of newspaper publishers.
'This was making a start – the library is always in discussion with newspapers and we want to discuss this and see if we can get a solution [to extending the archive past 1900]."