Sunday, February 01, 2009

British newapapers at Colindale / Weekend Columnists / Matthew Engel - Dispatch from Colindale:
"Colindale, home of the British Library’s newspaper section, traditionally the final resting place of the old newspapers of Britain and much of the world.

Except that the resting place is no longer final. Next year, the lease runs out on one of the library’s two buildings here. In 2012, Colindale will close completely, along with its 28 miles of shelving. Nearly 700,000 bound volumes of old papers and magazines, dating back to 1631, will be re-interred in the distant Yorkshire fastness of Boston Spa.

There is nothing like it anywhere else. American newspaper archives are scattered and incomplete; the French and German collections suffered severely from war damage. In Britain, the 17th-century bookseller George Thomason squirrelled away more than 7,000 pamphlets, news sheets and the like from the civil war and Oliver Cromwell’s rule, which represented the first embryonic indication of the brawling, sprawling press that was to come. “I believe the whole secret of the 17th century is involved in that hideous mass of rubbish,” wrote Thomas Carlyle. A century after Thomason, the classicist and obsessive Charles Burney bound 700 volumes of early newspapers. The nation acquired both collections.

After 1869, all British newspapers, and those of its colonies, were obliged by law to deposit a copy of every issue. That law still applies, and the library continues to collect 190 overseas titles as well. You might say there is now 28 miles of hideous rubbish.

Since the 1940s, the library has been shifting old and new papers on to microfilm, and now has 45 people engaged in the task.

When Colindale shuts, the microfilm and computerised versions will be available at the main British Library next to St Pancras station,

THE BRITISH LIBRARY - The world's knowledge: "We hold 14 million books, 920,000 journal and newspaper titles, 58 million patents, 3 million sound recordings, and so much more. Start exploring here."


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