The British Library Newspapers section was based in Colindale in North London, until 2013, and is now divided between the St Pancras and Boston Spa sites. The Library has an almost complete collection of British and Irish newspapers since 1840. This is partly because of the legal deposit legislation of 1869, which required newspapers to supply a copy of each edition of a newspaper to the library. London editions of national daily and Sunday newspapers are complete back to 1801. In total the collection consists of 660,000 bound volumes and 370,000 reels of microfilm containing tens of millions of newspapers with 52,000 titles on 45 km of shelves.
After the closure of Colindale in November 2013, access to the 750 million original printed pages was maintained via an automated and climate-controlled storage facility in Boston Spa. This opened in April 2014.
In May 2010, a ten-year programme of digitization of the newspaper archives with commercial partner DC Thomson subsidiary Brightsolid began. In November 2011, BBC News announced the launch of the British Newspaper Archive, an initiative to facilitate online access to over one million pages of pre-20th century newspapers. The same newspapers from this partnership have also been made available to view on Findmypast and Genes Reunited.
The digitisation project established an online search facility which people could consult without having to visit the British Library newspaper depository in person.
Among the collections are the Thomason Tracts, containing 7,200 17th-century newspapers, and the Burney Collection, featuring nearly 1 million pages of newspapers from the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century. The Thomason Tracts and Burney collections are held at St Pancras, and are available in digital facsimile.
The section also has extensive records of non-British newspapers in languages that use the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets. The Library's substantial holdings of newspapers in the languages of Asia and the Middle East may be accessed at the Library's reading rooms at St. Pancras.
While access within the British Library is free, online access is via a subscription system based on daily or item charges, £12.95 monthly or yearly fees of up to £79.95 as of July 2019. New visitors may access three free page views.
As part of The Wikipedia Library, Brightsolid provided free one-year subscriptions to a limited number of experienced Wikipedia editors from July 2014. The agreement was terminated in 2016 because "structural changes at their parent organisation(s) mean that there is no longer interest in continuing the partnership with The Wikipedia Library".
Reviews of the service have been mixed, with some early responses complimentary about the ability to access and search the large data sets. However, there have been complaints of the excessive cost and the general policy of the British Library allowing a private company the rights to the newspapers. One writer noted that: "The BNA demonstrates what happens to our cultural heritage when there is no political will for public investment. The nineteenth-century newspaper press was one of the period’s greatest achievements but, rather than celebrate it, opening it up and giving it back to the nation, the British Library have been forced to sell it off." The search Interface has also been criticised for problems in identifying where the searched terms are on the retrieved pages, and in the unreliability of the web interface, with bugs preventing images loading and regular crashes.
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