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Treasures from the British Library

Magazine article Information Today

Treasures from the British Library

Article excerpt

After nearly 2 years of work, the first fruits of The British Library's (BL) newspaper digitization project are ready for the public eye.

With the digitized British Newspaper Archive now available online, BL spokesman Ben Sanderson says the first phase of the project includes 1 million pages from newspapers dating from 1900. Another 3 million pages will be digitized in the next phase of the project, and during the next decade, 40 million of the estimated 750 million pages in the collection will be digitized.

The collection, which resides in the North London suburb of Colindale, contains several million newspapers and magazines, some of which were damaged by enemy bombing during World War II. In fact, shrapnel was found in some of the newspapers that were collected for digitization. The oldest publication selected for digitization was a copy of the Newcastle Courant, dated Jan. 2, 1716.

Since most of the material dates from the 19th century, it's unlikely there will be any copyright issues to address. But this may change as the project advances into issues dating from the 20th century. In any case, print digitization specialist Bright-solid is handling copyright issues and the technical aspects of the initiative as part of a 10-year agreement with the BL.

"When you're undertaking digitisation by the metre of linear shelf space it's important to keep it simple," says Patrick Fleming, the BL's head of reader and reference services. "The majority of material digitised during this first stage of the project is pre-1900, putting it safely beyond any copyright concerns." He notes that the sheer fragility of some of the newspapers being digitized caused quite a bit of concern. "Large parts of the collection are in a very fragile state," he says. "The Brightsolid staff actually doing the digitisation had training from the British Library's Collection Care experts."

BL visitors to the actual library will now be able to access the British Newspaper Archive free of charge, but online access will involve a charge (probably on a pay-per-view basis); details were still pending at press time.

But contemporary readers who are contemplating buying e-readers for the upcoming holiday will be spoiled by the sheer number of choices this year. As retailers take advantage of lower producer prices, e-readers are being offered at more affordable rates. Larger retail chains also have the muscle to buy in bulk from e-reader manufacturers and can offer attractive ebook deals.

In a recent report from Futuresource Consulting Ltd., a U.K. research and knowledgebase firm, the Western European ebook market grew by more than 400% in 2010, exceeding 10 million purchased titles, and it is on track to achieve unit sales of 32 million this year.

"[O]ur forecasts show Western European e-book revenues will reach 1.6 billion [euro] [about $2.2 billion] by 2015, accounting for 15% of total book spend and representing one out of every five books sold in the region," says Fiona Hoy, market analyst for Futuresource.

Germany represents Western Europe's largest book market. The German Publishers and Booksellers Association (GPBA) reports that publishers are investing in ebook publishing, even though the market is still slow. The association notes that 82% of the country's readers are still purchasing mostly print books, while only 2% buy mostly ebooks. Excluding academic books and textbooks, ebook sales generated 21.2 million [pounds sterling] (about $29. …

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