27 January 2015
Into the void
On Friday 23 January 2015 the British Library formally opened the National Newspaper Building at Boston Spa, Yorkshire. The building has been operational for a few months now, but it feels right to mark these things with a celebration, and the ceremony that took place effectively brings to an end our Newspaper Programme, which had the task of transferring the newspaper and periodical collection from its home in Colindale, north London, to the British Library's second home in Boston Spa, to a dedicated preservation building. The entire programme cost some £33m (of which the new building cost £23m), with two new reading rooms (in London and Boston Spa) thrown in, plus it instituted a newspaper digitisation project which has resulted in the British Newspaper Archive. All in all, the future of the British Library's newspaper collection has been transformed.
The National Newspaper Building, Boston Spa
The building is located in Boston Spa, near Wetherby in Yorkshire. It stores around 33km of newspapers, some 60 million issues in 280,000 bound volumes, or 450 million individual pages (give or take a few). They are stored in a dark, air-tight, low-oxygen environment to eliminate the risk of fire (14-15% oxygen makes it similar to trying to breathe at the top of a Himalayan mountain). The newspaper are stored on 20-metre high stacks and retrieved by robotic cranes, which move the requested volumes via an airlock to a retrieval staff, where staff prcoess them for sending to the reading rooms at Boston Spa and St Pancras in London (it takes a maximum 48 hours from the point of ordering for the newspapers to arrive on the reader's desk).
Inside the 'void' area of the National Newspaper Building
For the opening ceremony they raised the oxygen levels to enable visitors to go beyond the retrieval area and enter the storage void. You stand on a low-level viewing platform and look up in awe as tier upon tier of newspapers rise up into the distance, while the robotic crans whirr by picking up stacks (they select stacks of several volumes rather than individual volumes of newspapers).
The storage void, photo © Kippa Matthews
The void is 24 metres high by 24 metres wide by 64 metres long, with 26,000 locations capable of holding 89,000 stacks. As said, oxygen levels are usually at 14-15% (normal atmospheric level is 21%), temperature is a constant 14 degress Celsius and humidity is at 55%, and without the fluctuations in those figures which played havoc with some of the newspapers at Colindale.
How the British Library's newspapers were previously stored, at Colindale
The reason we had to build the new store was because the newspapers' former home at Colindale was unsuitable for the preservation of newspapers. A study showed that some 33% of the newspaper collection was in a poor or unfit condition, exacerbated by a lack of appropriate temperature and humidity controls. Newsprint was designed to last a day, not in an archive for all time, and to ensure the collection's long-term survival a new home had to be found. Another improvement can be judged from the above photograph showing how newspapers were previously stored at Colindale - standing upright, which placed great pressure on their spines. They are rested horizontally in the National Newspaper Building.
Boston Spa reading room
The building was formally opened up Councillor David Congreve, the Lord Mayor of Leeds, and Alec Shelbrooke MP (Elmet and Rothwell). After speeches had been given, a plaque unveiled, and visits paid to the void, wecrossed to the new reading room at Boston Spa. This is a reading room for all kinds of subjects and media, not just newspapers, but one corner is specially devoted to newspapers. The reproductions of historic newspapers on the walls will look familiar to any user of the British Library's Newsroom at St Pancras, while the desks will be familiar to anyone who researched previously at Colindale. We have retained four of those desks, with their distinctive overhead lights, but the rest of the reading room is equipped with desks more in keeping with the twnety-first century rather than the nineteenth.
Many historic newspapers might have been lost had they been allowed to continue to fade and crumble as was increasingly the case at Colindale. Today 300 years of the UK's newspaper inheritance are stored in conditions designed to ensure that they will defy the ravages of time. But the National Newspaper Building is not a static monument to a medium that is no more. We continue to take in around 1,200 new newspaper titles per week, despite the rise in electronic news media. Print is not dead yet, and in whatever form the news is published in this country we're ready for it, and will ensure that it is stored safely and made available for researchers, today and forever.
- The British Library's press release has striking images of the National Newspaper Building including inside the storage void
- There are video reports on the opening from the BBC, ITV (Calendar) and the Yorkshire Post
- Images of how newspapers were formerly stored at Colindale can be see on my Flickr pages
24 September 2014
News from the community
Over the past few years a quiet revolution has been taking place in the production of news in the UK. The people are making the news for themselves. Inspired by blogging platforms, forums, Facebook and other social media, and the rise in mobile devices, but all the more by an urge to report on local issues that matter to them, people have been producing news-based online services - occasionally in print form as well - that operate on a local level. They have been given the name hyperlocal media, and there are hundreds of them out there. Many are reading them, some academics are studying them, and here at the British Library we want to archive them.
Port Talbot Magnet, http://www.lnpt.org
The term 'hyperlocal' comes from the USA and in general means local news and information sources online which are not produced by traditional media owners, but are instead created by communities themselves. As a phenomenon in the UK it seems to date back to 2007, though with some roots stretching back further than that. Just how many hyperlocal sites are out there in the UK no one knows. In 2012 the Openly Local site attempted to list them all and found 700 of them, but the data has not been updated for some while now, and without a system of registration it is hard to see how it would be possible ever to document them all with any certainty.
Part of the challenge lies in definition - some of the sites cover villages or corners of one town, others stretch over a whole city. Some are news sites, some information or arts and culture sites. Some are simply message forums; others look just like online newspapers from traditional media owners. Here is a selection of titles to demonstrate the range:
- Alston Moor
- The Ambler (Amble, Northumberland)
- Brixton Blog
- The City Talking (Leeds)
- The Lincolnite
- More Canals than Venice (Birmingham)
- Papur Dre (Caernarfon)
- The Peckham Peculiar
- Port Talbot Magnet
- Shetland News
- The Yam Yam (Black Country)
There has been growing interest from policy makers and academics in the hyperlocal phenomenon. in 2012 NESTA ( National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) produced a report, Here and Now: UK hyperlocal media today which looked at the growth of the media, their sustainability, funding and visibility. Two AHRC-funded projects at Cardiff, Birmingham and Westminster universities have been studying hyperlocal media and combined this year to produce a report: The State of Hyperlocal Community News in the UK.
The report finds that three-quarters of hyperlocal producers have been producing news for over three years and nearly a third for more than five years. Intriguingly, almost half of those surveyed had some sort of journalistic training or media experience, much higher than one might have suspected.
The connection with habitual news media practice is shown by three-quarters of respondents having covered local campaigns instigated by others, with well over a third have instigated their own. Most of those behind such sites work part-time on them: 57% work up to 10 hours per week, 26% work between 11 and 30 hours per week. The impact generated by all this effort is relatively low, as one would expect for local sites: a small group of high-performing community news sites reach audiences between 10,000 and 100,000 unique visits per month but most reach quite modest audiences of around 5,000 per month.
Community news producers tend do it for love and dedication to the cause. Most fund the running costs from their own pockets, but around one in four raise enough money to cover their costs, with advertising being the dominant form of income generation. 12% make less than £100 a month; 13% generate more than £500 per month. Yet nine out of ten believe they can sustain, or increase, current levels of output for the coming year, and eight out of then have ambitions to expand their sites. Hyperlocals may eventually fall in number as some lose the drive to continue what they have started up, but a core looks like to become a fixed part of the news media landscape.
The Peckham Peculiar, http://peckhampeculiar.tumblr.com
Hyperlocalism is turning anyone who wants to be into a journalist or a media producer. Fancy having a go for yourself? Cardiff University's Centre for Community Journalism has produced a handy guide: Community Engagement and Hyperlocal News: a practical guide. This provides instruction on how to identify, listen to and engage with the community you wish to serve, how to make best use of social media, what online tools can help you, how to produce engaging content, how to cover local causes and campaigns, how to manage your time most effectively (a key issue mentioned by practitioners is how they never seem to have enough time achieve what they want to achieve) and how to monitor your impact.
We are witnessing a grassroots news revolution, and it is instructive to look at the parallels with the early history of newspaper production in this country. Newspapers and newsbooks arose in Britain from the early seventeenth century. Building on what had previously been private news services or occasional leaflets and broadsides, newspapers grew rapidly to serve an audience thirst for current information and the exercise of opinion. The civil war encouraged this demand to know, and though news production was constrained for a time by censorship and licensing restrictions, and then taxation, titles spread across the country until by the mid-eighteenth century few corners of the country were without a newspaper of some kind. Newspapers became a signifier of local identity. Their variousness demonstrated that news changes according to the needs of its consumers. What is news to someone in one area is not news to another. News is made by its communities. This is what the hyperlocal revolution has rediscovered.
Alston Moor, http://www.cybermoor.org
Another parallel with early newspapers needs to halted. Thousands of newspaper issues produced in Britain from the 17th to the mid-19th century have been lost because there was no system in place for collecting them and no library to hold them. It is only thanks to collectors such as George Thomason and Charles Burney that we have the early British newspaper collection that we do, now part of the British Library's collection (since 1869 a copy of every newspaper published in Britain and Ireland has been acquired under legal deposit, originally by the British Museum and now by the British Library).
We do not intend to lose this new flowering of news production in the same way. In April 2013 non-print legal deposit legislation was passed which has enabled the Library to capture electronic publications on top of the print publications traditionally collected under legal deposit. We began by crawling the entire .uk domain (some 3.5 million websites); subsequent crawls will cover all websites published in the United Kingdom, so far as we are able to identify them. Eventually all British hyperlocal sites will be included, but how to find them thereafter, and what about those who currently may be slipping through the net?
So it is that we have a tool which enables curators to identify particular sites for retention, and to tag these so that they can be gathered into collections. In September we identified an initial 500 news websites - mostly newspaper sites - which we would archive on a regular and frequent basis, some weekly, some daily (the main web archiving crawl is annual). We will now be adding a further 500 or so sites for regular web archiving, most of them hyperlocal news sites, largely based on a list kindly provided by Dave Harte of Birmingham City University, one of the collaborators behind the Cardiff/Birmingham 'Media, Community and the Creative Citizen' project.
Some of these sites will be short-lived. Some will change their name, or web address. Who knows, some may merge or otherwise morph, as the community news sector matures. The important thing is that we capture what we can now. We need also to do more to acquire the print versions of hyperlocals, where these exist, only a few of which are currently being picked up through legal deposit. Then we need to keep a watchful eye on what new sites emerge, and which ones die, and review our selection on an annual basis at least. It's important to note that the Legal Deposit UK Web Archive may only be accessed onsite via Reading Room computers at the British Library and other legal deposit libraries (i.e. the national libraries of Scotland and Wales, the Bodleian, Cambridge University library and Trinity College Dublin). Interested researchers can come to the British Library's Newsroom, and any search result on the Web Archive can be filtered by the term 'news'. We haven't started archiving the hyperlocals yet, but plan to start doing so within the next few weeks.
Last week the Royal College of Art hosted the Creative Citizens conference, on creative citizenship and its value to the community. There was a panel on hyperlocal news media, at which I was fortunate to speak, demonstrating the links between news media of the past and this emerging news medium, and calling for the sites to be identified, archived, and then used. We need researchers to start using this new research resource, as part of the broadening news media world of which newspapers, television and radio news now form only a part. Most of these sites are still findable online, of course, but that's unlikely always to be the case, and being able to search across them all (or at least a good many of them) will tell us a lot about what this new world of community news is telling us about our communities. It will also show how news power is changing. Anyone can be a journalist. Anyone can be a media producer. So could you.
- The Centre for Community Journalism has resources and training events for those interested in community journalism, and a directory of hyperlocal sites
- Openly Local is a resource for accessing local government information, with a directory of hyperlocal sites
- Talk About Local is an organisation supporting the online connecting up of communities
- Anyone interested in researching hyperlocal news media, or who wants to check if their hyperlocal site is included on our archiving list should please get in touch
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