British Library Newspapers is located in Colindale, North London. I was pleased to meet with Stewart Gillies, Information Services Manager, who gave me a tour of the building.
He was eager to tell me about the impending move of the collections to a purpose built facility currently being built in Boston Spa, West Yorkshire, which has been planned for some time.
The accumulated 28 miles of stacks includes 693,000 bound volumes and more than 400,000 reels of microfilm covering the finest collection of newspapers from Britain and Ireland. Holdings of regional papers are fairly comprehensive from the 1840s onwards. Since 1869, British and Irish newspapers have been received through legal deposit. Historically accumulated papers were bound upon receipt.
The building and collection were established by the British Museum in 1905 (the British Library was not established till 1972). Newspapers are currently shelved by year differing sizes are intermingled, this does present challenges for the length of the location information indicated on a catalogue record and more leg work for assistants who may have a request fro a data run of a certain title.
These will be requested by researchers from the Reading room. A number of international titles are held, including some from Australia.
About 6,000 volumes of papers dating from the early 20th century were lost during bombing raids during World War 2, even today pieces of shrapnel can be discovered in volumes that have sat unopened over the years.
In the 1950s a microfilming program commenced, starting with papers from the war years. By the 1970s, the preservation side was being recognised and there were efforts made to retrospectively microfilm older and fragile volumes. By 1986 a decision was made to to microfilm new papers as they came in.
Today, if a title is on microfilm, this will be provided to researchers rather than the original copy. Microfilming ceased in 2010.
The new facility will mean that Colindale will close. The British Library in St Pancras will host a new newspapers reading room. Original papers will still be able to be requested but the turn around will be about 2 days as the item is retrieved from Yorkshire.
The new facility, known as the Newspaper Storage Building (still under construction), will provide environmentally controlled storage conditions, along with temperature and humidity controls, as well as a low oxygen system. A racking system installed will allow for automated collection.
Some British Newspapers have also been available via Gale such as Times Digital Archives, 17th and 18th Century Burney Collection which Yarra Plenty Regional Library and other Australian public libraries subscribe to as well as the fairly recent British Newspapers Archive.
I was pleased to receive a tour and chat with Bright Solid staff about their digitisation process. Some six million pages are now available. The ten year partnership will see up to 40 million pages digitised by the end of the decade.
In case you were wondering, of course I mentioned my favourite website, Trove, in our conversation!
It is a very exiting time for British Library Newspapers. The size and characteristics of the new storage building has been described as making it one of the most remarkable library buildings in he world. Newspapers will always remain a favourite resource for “history files” and the British Library is certainly playing its role in the preserving and making accessible this very valuable resource for everybody.