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British Library sprinkles digital dust on dusty newsprint

Online archive opens up – at a cost

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The British Library and its commercial partner brightsolid opened up a pay-per-view online archive of newspapers today, after a crack team scanned 4 million searchable pages that mainly date from out-of-copyright papers published in the 19th century.

It was confirmed in May 2010 that the British Library and brightsolid – which is a division of FriendsReunited and Beano owner DC Thomson – would eventually digitise 40 million pages of old newspapers.

The library holds 52,000 national and international titles covering 300 years. Up until now, around 30,000 researchers a year have to go to Colindale in north London to scan through microfilm or hard copies.

Under the deal, brightsolid agreed to scan a minimum of 4 million pages within two years, with the project taking 10 years in total to scan 40 million pages of tabloids and broadsheets in the UK and Ireland.

Eventually, in-copyright material from the early to mid-20th century is expected to be included – should negotiations with rights-holders prove successful.

Brightsolid will also flog the content on its own GenesReunited site.

"We’ve unearthed national treasures at the turn of every page,” said brightsolid CEO Chris van der Kuyl.

“All human life is here; from a man who decided one day to walk round the world in an iron mask, to bullet-stopping corsets and the art of wide-sleeved shoplifting – this is a digital Aladdin's Cave.

"The 65 million stories available online today, taken together, are the story of the UK and we're adding 120,000 stories a day, so you’ll be able to uncover what life was like in your street, your town and your area.”

The British Library said today that its users will have free access to the material, while anyone visiting its website will be required to pay for the content.

Users of the site will be able to search for free previews of snippets of the material. Anyone wanting to download full articles and images can do so using pay-per-view access for 48 hours or 30 days. There's also an annual subscription package.

A Boston Spa, West Yorkshire-based newspaper storage facility will eventually house hard copy versions of the entire collection, which is currently stored in Colindale. The new space was built after the Department for Culture, Media and Sport coughed up £33m for the project.

“The British Newspaper Archive is a rich and hugely exciting resource, packed with historical detail. It’s a great example of the public and private sectors collaborating to deliver something that neither party could have delivered by themselves," said Culture Minister Ed Vaizey. ®

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