BNA Newsletter 1 (November 2011): A Digital Scheherazade – The British Newspaper Archive Blog


BNA Newsletter 1 (November 2011): A Digital Scheherazade

Stories of Rare Beauty Abound in the British Newspaper Archive

Welcome to the first edition of the British Newspaper Archive e-newsletter.

Although extremely busy scanning 8,000 old newspaper pages a day, the Stakhanov-like workers at the British Library’s Colindale site still endeavour to pick out stories of great historical interest, quirkiness, humour and tragedy.

Life’s Rich Tapestry of Stories
In short, ‘all human life is here’: from a frog-vomiting dog and a man who one day decided to walk round the world in an iron mask, to bullet-stopping corsets and the dodgeful art of wide-sleeved shoplifting. These are just four, quirky stories that offer us a glimpse of how some of our more colourful 19th Century ancestors spent their days – though, like Scheherazade, the archive has millions of more stories to tell us . . .

The Composition of the Newspapers Have Amazing Tales to Tell Also
But it’s not just the ‘life’s rich tapestry’ stories which capture one’s imagination (fascinating as they are), as the composition of the newspapers themselves also have amazing tales to tell. For instance, we have black-bordered newspaper pages to mark the death in 1837 of King William IV. Jumping forward just over a century, the digitisers have also found that some of the old books of newspapers have been damaged by shrapnel – a legacy of the ‘London Blitz’.

Leading-Edge Technology Ensures Every Page is Fully Searchable
The newspaper images have been digitised and made searchable through a process called Optical Character Recognition (OCR), which enables a searchable index of all recognised words to be built. As a result of using OCR technology in the digitisation process, the search feature on the website will be very powerful and accurate. The intuitive search interface on the website will allow visitors to filter searches by keyword(s), publication title, location and date range – so every newspaper story on the site will be fully searchable.

What Content Will the Archive Contain?
At launch, the majority of the newspapers will be from the 19th Century. As the scanning and digitisation progresses, however, the site will grow to span over 250 years of UK and Irish newspapers, covering the period from 1700 to 1950 (i.e. the birth of Britain to the ‘Age of Austerity’). For the launch of the website, there will be up to four million pages live on the site. Following the launch, up to 8,000 pages a day (120,000 new stories every 24 hours) will continue to be added to the website right up to 2021.

Who Will Be Interested in the Newspaper Archive?
The British Newspaper Archive will be of interest to anyone interested in UK and world history. It will also be very popular with genealogists. In particular, the family notices in these old newspapers will be invaluable to researchers who are looking to find out more about their ancestors. Indeed, the benefits of using old newspapers in genealogical research was recently highlighted in three ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ programmes, when Richard Madeley, Len Goodman and Tracy Emin all gained an in-depth insight into the lives of family ancestors via old newspaper stories.

Follow Us on Facebook and Twitter – and Look Out For #oldnews
To give people an idea of what the newspaper archive contains, we’ve already been posting some content on our Facebook page. Likewise, we have been using our Twitter channel to let people know about new Facebook content and any upcoming events where people can get a sneak preview of the newspaper archive. On the day of the launch, we’re going to be using the hashtag, #oldnews, to let people know about the exciting stunts and events that will be taking place.

When Will the Website Be Launched?
The website is due to be launched in the near future – newsletter subscribers, Facebook fans and Twitter followers will be the first to know. But before the launch takes place, we’ll be sending out another newsletter with further details about the archive and the project. So keep your eyes peeled on your inbox and on the web for fresh #oldnews . . .

Best wishes
The British Newspaper Archive team

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