14 April 2016
Denise Bates is a writer on social history whose latest book, Historical Research using British Newspapers, is a guide to using newspaper archives in research, particularly the British Newspaper Archive. In this guest blog post, she describes what led her to write about using digitised newspapers.
The inspiration for Historical Research Using British Newspapers was a very modern concept; the blog. I used old newspapers extensively whilst researching my first two books, Pit Lasses and Breach of Promise to Marry. The positive reaction to my blog for the British Newspaper Archive about the differences between national and local newspapers surprised me as I had not expected this to be new learning. After more investigation I realised that twenty-first century historians have an exciting new resource, digitised, on-line newspapers, but little information about using them effectively. The seeds of my next project were planted.
When I first started using old newspapers, like many researchers I was learning on the job and made mistakes along the way. These included not knowing which titles were the best ones to consult first and thus wasting time trying to understand a topic that was well-covered in a different publication. I also made unrealistic assumptions about how much time was needed to locate and study reports. I decided on a book which brought together the many issues that are relevant to users of old newspapers, including the history of the press, how to find good quality information, how to use it productively and the pitfalls to avoid.
Digitised newspapers have a growing fan-base. Their preserved pages contain a rich vein of forgotten material, allowing researchers to broaden their enquiries from the standard sources on many topics and to cite new examples, rather than recycling the same few. Newspapers sometimes offer an unorthodox view of the past, with content which challenges the version that has been handed down in exam syllabuses and popular histories alike. For topics that have not been studied or written about, newspapers are an accessible way of rediscovering aspects of the past that have been forgotten.
Illustrated Police News 29 July 1882. An artist's impression of a breach of promise case and a case of child cruelty.
Unanticipated discoveries have changed my understanding of the nineteenth century. When I used court reports to delve into the archaic world of the jilted women and men who sued a former fiancé for compensation, I found that no-win-no fee lawyers, who I had previously believed to be a product of the late twentieth century, ran flourishing practices as early as the 1820s. When I looked at several cases involving child cruelty or neglect in the 1890s, I entered a world of high-minded social workers who could not comprehend how the people they were trying to help had to live. Amongst some very serious and indisputable instances of ill-treatment, were several shocking but unwarranted accusations of laziness, selfishness and drunkenness made against caring parents whose wages were too low to feed and clothe their children properly, even though they had been instructed about cleanliness and nutrition. Suddenly I knew the roots of the fear that haunted working-class families as I grew up in the 1960s, that if you didn't do as 'they' said, 'they' might take your children away.
'Eruption of Mount Vesuvius', Penny Illustrated Paper, 17 October 1863. This scene would have been a revelation to most readers of the time.
Every type of material has its drawbacks and old newspapers are far from being the perfect resource. The number of pages that are already on-line can make them unwieldy to handle if a query produces a large number of matches. It is possible to become overwhelmed by detail and miss important information or insight. There are plenty of places in the news chain where error can creep into a report and sometimes they cover a topic in a very superficial way. Occasionally a researcher may strike lucky and quickly locate an editorial or journalist's investigation that provides a complete answer. More usually it will be necessary to find, collate and analyse a number of individual reports in order to uncover the full story or unlock relevant learning.
Almost all sources are affected by bias and newspapers are no exception. They have been subjected to censorship, may have printed propaganda or portrayed opinion as fact. These problems are not insurmountable, but users need to know how to recognise and manage them in order to avoid jumping to false conclusions.
When newspapers were first published, they opened up a wider world to the literate people of the day. Reproduced digitally, they are now allowing twenty-first century researchers to immerse themselves in the past in a way that no other resource can and make new discoveries.
Denise Bates (www.denisebates.co.uk)
04 June 2014
The Newsroom is the British Library's new dedicated reading room for researching its news collections. It is located on the second floor of the Library's site at St Pancras in London. This post is an overall guide to what researchers can expect to find in the Newsroom.
The Newsroom is in two sections: the main reading room, which delivers access to the news collections and is open to anyone with a British Library reader's pass; and the networking area, a research space open to anyone which displays live news on screens from a variety of sources.
You can find most of our news collections through the British Library's main catalogue, http://explore.bl.uk. News items can be searched for by title, any word from a title, place name, or word in the catalogue record. Some of our television and radio news records can be found on Explore, but we are still adding records. The full collection can be found via Broadcast News (see below). Our web news collection needs to be searched separately (see below).
To access anything from our news collections you will need a free Reader Pass - guidelines on how to obtain a pass are available here.
You can order items before your visit using http://explore.bl.uk.
The main room has 110 desks, of which 58 are clear Reader desks, 40 have microfilm viewers plus access to electronic resources, and 8 have dedicated electronic resources terminals.
We offer self-service facilities for making copies from print, microfilm and digital newspapers, subject to preservation and copyright restrictions. There are 3 printers in the Newsroom, and 1 print release station. We have a wide range of news media reference works available on open access, including such titles as Willing's Press Guide and the Times Index.
We collect nearly all newspapers published in the United Kingdom and Ireland, with some 60 million issues going back to the early 1600s. We currently receive around 1,500 newspaper titles on a daily or weekly basis, and nearly 100 titles from overseas. Because the main print newspaper collection is currently in transit from its former home in Colindale to our Newspaper Storage Building in Boston Spa, Yorkshire, the newspapers will not become available in the Newsroom until autumn 2014.
There are 15 microfilmed newspaper titles available immediately via open access, while anything from our main collection of 625,000 reels of microfilmed newspapers is available for delivery within 70 minutes, or can be ordered in advance by using http://explore.bl.uk. Appropxiately one third of our newspaper collection is available on microfilm. The 15 titles available for immediate access are:
- Daily Mail 1896-2009
- Daily Telegraph 1855-2009
- Daily Worker 1930-1960
- Evening Standard 1860-June 2010
- Financial Times 1888 onwards
- Guardian 1821 onwards
- Independent 1986 onwards
- Independent on Sunday 1989 onwards
- Mail on Sunday 1982-2009
- Morning Star 1966-2009
- News of the World 1843-2011
- Observer 1791 onwards
- Sun 1964-2009
- Sunday Telegraph 1961-2009
- The Times 1785 onwards
Our specialist microfilm readers enable the microfilmed images to be viewed on a digital screen, and can be rotated to suit the shape on a newspaper if required. They offer the ability to zoom in and out, crop, adjust focus, brightness, contrast, and de-skew the image.
We provide access to a wide range of digitised newspapers and other electronic news collections, both those derived from our own holdings and the digital collections of third parties. This includes:
- British Newspaper Archive
- British Newspapers 1600-1950
- Gale News Vault
- Readex World Newspaper Archive
- ProQuest Historial Newspapers
All of our electronic news resources are listed at http://www.bl.uk/eresources/main.shtml and all can be seen for free in the Newsroom.
Television and radio news
We have almost 50,000 television and radio news programmes recorded since May 2010 available onsite via the Broadcast News service. This can be accessed by using the link to Sound and Moving Image collections given on the home page of the Library terminals. There are recordings taken from 22 channels:
- Al Jazeera English
- BBC One
- BBC News
- BBC Parliament
- BBC Two
- BBC Four
- CCTV News
- Channel 4
- France 24
- NHK World
- Sky News
- BBC London
- BBC Radio 1
- BBC Radio 4
- BBC 5 Live
- BBC World Service
Most programmes are available in the Newsroom from the day of broadcast. We only record news and news-related programmes.
Separately we provide access to BBC programmes via the BBC Catalogue service. This has some 2 million BBC catalogue records from the 1950s to 2012, with around 200,000 playable television and radio programmes broadcast 2007-2012. This can be accessed by using the link to Sound and Moving Image collections given on the home page of the Library terminals.
We provide access to over 4.8 million UK websites archived since 2013 as part of the Legal Deposit Web Archive. This archive can be accessed by using the link to Web Archives collections given on the home page of the Library terminals. The collection includes over 500 news-based websites archived on a frequent basis, including most UK national newspaper sites and many regional sites, which can be searched as a discrete collection.
The networking area is open to anyone. It has seating for over 30, with cubicles, and many charging points. The area's Video Wall features live television news, a rotating display of live news websites (all sites archived by the Library) and the Newsmap news aggregator site. We refresh the content on the Video Wall periodically.
Above the cubicles we project live tweets from around 100 news websites that we archive, including international, national and regional titles.
9.30-17.00 Fri - Sat
We are organising a series of regular workshops on using the news collections, both general guides and introductions to particular parts of the collection. See http://www.bl.uk/reader-workshops.
Finding out more
The Newsroom has leaflets aavailable on the news collections and their use.
Our newspaper reference team can give help on using the Newsroom and finding items, though we cannot undertaken in-depth research requests. You can contact us online via http://www.bl.uk/reference-contacts.
Guide to the collection and its use are given on our web pages at http://www.bl.uk/subjects/news-media.
You can follow discussion about news and news collections via the Newsroom blog at http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/thenewsroom.
Don't forget to follow us on Twitter too: @BL_newsroom