Newspapers are, of course, one of our most important sources for accessing death records such as obituaries and inquest records. On Monday I was lucky enough to attend the official opening of the British Library Newsroom at St Pancras. Officially opened by the new Secretary of State, Sajid Javid, the evening also included a tour of the new reading room given by Stewart Gillies, Head of British Library Newspaper Services and a short talk by the BBC’s economics editor Robert Peston.
The Newsroom replaces the previous newspaper library at Colindale in North London which closed in November. Facilities in the new reading room appear to be first class. All original newspapers are now stored safely in a purpose built storage facility in Boston Spa, Yorkshire in order to preserve their life. Newspapers were not designed to last forever and many times after reading an original paper at Colindale I noticed that flakes of paper would remain on the desk after the newspaper had been returned. Therefore access to a large proportion of historic national and local newspapers is now provided either digitally or via one of 40 state-of-the art microfilm readers in the Newsroom. Many readers will be familiar with the British Newspaper Archive website which is also available on-line at home for those who subscribe and via findmypast. The site is freely available to use in the Newsroom and, although a growing database, already contains millions of pages of newspapers. Use of Optical Character Recognition software (OCR) in tandem with a search engine makes fishing trips for names, places and subjects now a viable possibility turning up items that would never have been found before because so few newspapers were indexed.
Those newspapers not available via the BNA can either be viewed via the new digital microfilm readers or ordered from cold storage in Boston Spa to view at St Pancras but only if the newspaper is fit to travel. 48 hours’ notice is required to do so. The new microfilm readers in the reading room are attached to computer screens which swivel and rotate to accommodate the size and shape of the page you are viewing. From these you can enlarge and print out any part of the page you are interested in and, if you have a lot of papers to study, then you can save all your print jobs to print off in one go at the end of your session.
The British Library is not only responsible for preserving historical newspapers and periodicals but also for capturing and preserving modern day news via websites. Leading into the main Newsroom is a lobby area where you can access some 4.8 million pages of such archived websites.
The Newsroom looks like a great place to research and is already proving extremely popular with a wide range of researchers. To use the Newsroom you will need a readers ticket and full details of how to obtain this can be found at http://www.bl.uk/reshelp/inrrooms/stp/register/stpregister.html
With thanks to Amelia Bennett for the photograph which comes from one of the historic newspaper pages displayed on the Newsroom wall.