THE BRITISH LIBRARY

The Newsroom blog

News about yesterday's news, and where news may be going

Introduction

Whether you are studying history, politics, society, international relations, economics, media history, sports history or family history, our collections will have something for you Read more

07 October 2019

Visualisation workshop report

Historical newspapers are not always easy to digest. Mostly without illustrations or photography, the ‘wall of text’ of a nineteenth-century newspaper can be intimidating or difficult to engage with, and we’ve been thinking about how we can solve this.

Last Wednesday evening we ran an experimental workshop in conjunction with lecturers in design from London College of Communication. Our aim was to learn how techniques from design could help the understanding of nineteenth-century newspaper articles, and we hoped to learn how we could make the information within our newspapers more accessible to Library users. We were very lucky to have a diverse group of historical newspaper users to help us out in our experiment.

We gathered historians, general library users with a passing interest in newspapers and newspaper data, artists, and designers together and asked them to take part in a workshop where they would ‘visualise’ a newspaper in an innovative way, using art materials rather than computer software.

The evening started with a brief overview of The British Library’s newspaper resources, an outline of our Heritage Made Digital programme (which will result in a set of openly available historical newspaper resources and the underlying data), and some pointers for those looking to learn how to do data analysis. We gave a very quick description of some of the tools we use, including R, Python, Jupyter Notebooks, https://voyant-tools.org/, and Palladio, and where to learn how to use them: we recommend checking out https://programminghistorian.org/ and  https://software-carpentry.org/.

Participants then worked with art materials, including hand-printed riso paper, to visually communicate an aspect of a newspaper article they found interesting. We gave several articles to choose from: one on the ‘Trial of Queen Caroline’, one about the burglar and murderer Charles Peace, one about the first commercial passenger railway journey (which also includes the first railway fatality), as well as a page of advertisements and a page of letters to the editor.

Workshop1

Participant showing their visual representation of categorical information found in a newspaper article

Participants took a range of approaches and styles: some took to chopping up paper straight away, whereas others were more cautious. Some chose to focus on the content of the article, and others looked at the visual or structural elements of the page. One participant color-coded their article according to gender. Another noticed a faint outline of an illustration on a page and based their work around this. Several attendees picked up on the significance of the advertisements, and the potential historical information within. By the end we had an impressive array of visualisations, including an entire three dimensional dolls’ house.

Workshop2

A dolls’ house based on the details of the ‘Trial of Queen Caroline’

There’s definitely more work to do. The workshop was exploratory and we already have some ideas on how to improve our next iteration. But it was an interesting, stimulating experiment, and we think a good stepping-point in the goal of making historic newspapers more accessible.

The introductory slides from the workshop are available at https://www.slideshare.net/lukemckernan/data-visualisation-workshop

We are organising a second newspaper data visualisation workshop for  October 30, between 17:00 and 19:00, at the British Library in London. If you’re interested to participate, please contact Yann.Ryan@bl.uk for more information.

Yann Ryan, Curator Newspaper Data

12 September 2019

Visualising newspaper data

Regional

Interested in data visualisation, information design or historic newspapers? We’re looking for a small group of volunteers to take part in some trial workshops in October, being run in collaboration with London College of Communication. You’ll learn how to work with data in a creative, hands-on way, while getting an overview of the Library’s digital newspaper collection and how you might use its data.

Volunteers from any background are welcome: you don't need to have expertise in working with data. All you need is some enthusiasm, ideas, and an interest in learning more about one of the areas above. We’ll provide all the necessary supplies, including the tea and biscuits.

The workshops will be held at The British Library in London on October 2 and October 30, between 17:00 and 19:00. 

If you’re interested and can make one or other of these dates, please contact Yann.Ryan@bl.uk for more information.

17 July 2019

Moving from a newspaper collection to a news collection

The world of news is changing, and at the British Library we are responding to that change - in how we collect, preserve, describe and present our news collections. Our goal is to transform what we hope is a world-class newspaper service into a world-class news service. This post outlines the Library's News Content Strategy for 2019-2023 with our plans for the next five years.

British Library's National Newspaper Building, interior

Inside the National Newspaper Building at Boston Spa

The British Library holds many millions of newspaper issues, and thousands of news websites, radio broadcasts and television programmes. Because it is a legal deposit library, it regularly collects thousands of news-related UK websites for its web archive and continues to receive the range of UK newspapers in print, including foreign language news published in the UK. It also subscribes to news services from across the world, providing a first class research experience for its readers. Together these form one of the greatest historical collections in the world, underpinning research into centuries of UK life and events, and to those of further afield.

In the last decade the Library has transformed its preservation of news, building state of the art facilities to store its historical newspapers collection in excellent environmental conditions and putting in place the first key elements of digital storage for ‘born digital’ news. It has greatly upgraded its service offer for news, making its content available in its reading rooms in London and Yorkshire, including a specially dedicated Newsroom at St Pancras. But there is much more to be done for the discovery of news onsite and online.

Medium

Size of collection

Weekly intake

Newspapers

60 million issues

1,200 issues

Web news

500,000 captures

2,000 websites

TV news

90,000 programmes

200 programmes

Radio news

50,000 programmes

170 programmes

Figures for the current news collection at the British Library

The Library works in partnership with other bodies to develop in-depth understanding of news and the events it describes. Working with family history company Findmypast the Library has provided most of the digitised newspapers on the British Newspaper Archive website, helping researchers and the general public to view rare newspapers from the comfort of their home or workplace.  With over 30 million pages digitised, many online readers exploring their family history will already be familiar with the resource. It is proving invaluable for a huge range of academic research topics as well.

That said, there is still so much to do. The digitisation challenge is vast: 93% of our newspaper content remains undigitised

One key to transforming our news offer is through data. News data is of particular value to researchers for its range across so many subjects and time periods, and for the regularity of its published outputs. It has huge potential for furthering our expertise in the data sciences. Our digitised newspaper archives are already being used by several ‘big data’ projects; in particular our historical archives underpin the major UKRI-funded ‘Living with Machines’ collaboration between the British Library and the Alan Turing Institute. Through the Heritage Made Digital programme we are building up a substantial body of out-of-copyright newspaper data which will greatly improve the service we offer to digital scholarship.

Finally, data forms the building blocks by which we will bring together the different news media to deliver an integrated news service that best serves future needs. 

Our commitment is to the news, not to the newspaper. This shift in thinking follows the direction in which the news media themselves have gone, and will trigger great changes in storage, access and use. It will ensure that the British Library continues to offer the best news research service, for researchers now and in the future.

Over the next five years, the Library will concentrate on four areas of its news collections:

Transforming discovery of news 

We will greatly improve the ease with which readers and the wider public can access our news offer, and respond fully to the big data opportunities of our historic news collections.

Collecting contemporary news 

We will collect UK contemporary news digitally as a matter of course and regularly review our selective approach to overseas news.

Protecting at-risk historical news

We will greatly increase our preservation of historical newspapers, digitising to rebalanced priorities, including at-risk titles.

Planning the next major phase of our strategic storage of news

Our large secure digital store will take audiovisual and digital news as business as usual, and save on physical storage space by switching to digital versions for a majority current UK newspapers; but we will still need to plan for new physical storage.

British Library's National Newspaper Building, interior

Masthead for The News and Sunday Globe, 2 July 1837, one of the titles being digitised by the Heritage Made Digital programme

Many activities relevant to the News Content Strategy are already underway. As we approach the 400th anniversary of the first newspaper available in Britain (1620) and the first newspaper published in Britain (1621), the British Library is responding to the profound changes taking place in the world of news today. At the same time we aim to revitalise how researchers may use and understand the news of yesterday. Look out for some significant announcements over the next year. Good news is on its way.