Friday, 11 November 2011

British Newspaper Archive beta - initial thoughts

The British Newspaper Archive has now launched a beta version of its website at http://beta.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk which will be available until Monday, November 14th. Despite it being a beta, the site is charging those who have previously registered with it a sum of £6.95 for 1000 credits - to view a page costs 10 credits, about 7p, which seems a fair price for a page, as that's about 100 pages worth, not bad. The beta intro page asks that none of the material is copied as yet, including use of screengrabs, so this is a non-illustrated preliminary assessment based on what I have seen so far.

The project is a partnership between the British Library and Brightsolid, the company behind FindmyPast.co.uk. A rough tally suggests there are 157 separate titles available, though the range of what is available varies - there is a title for Ayr, for example, with only one edition online! When originally previewed the site seemed to imply that only English titles would be made available in the first batch, and I'm happy to say that this is not the case - though this really should be qualified. For Ireland, for example, I can see three titles available for Belfast, Dublin and Cork. That's the good news - the slightly weirder news is that the titles for Belfast and Dublin are already freely available via library based subscriptions to the British Library 19th Century Newspaper Collection. For Scotland, the situation is better - there are new titles for Stirling, Dundee, Elgin, Falkirk, Motherwell, Dumfries and Dunfermline - but equally, the titles for Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and one for Dundee, are also freely available in the 19th Century collection, if you have access. I have not checked how much duplication there might be with English or Welsh material, though I see the Illustrated Police News there, which is on the 19th C collection. So it is worth checking against the 19th C collection via local library access before purchasing something that you might actually be able to get for free elsewhere.

The site itself is quite friendly on the eye, and seems to work fine. One thing that might irritate a few people is the fact that with the lists of titles presented, there is no date range given - I can't imagine that that would be a big deal to implement, but when addressed on the sites FAQs it suggests that it is because they will be adding more material. That's fair enough, but can't they just amend the date range when they do?!

This site is going to be GREAT, but I'm just surprised to see as much repetition as there is from the other British Library newspaper project. I had been given the nod a few weeks back that there would not be much by way of Irish material, and that is certainly the case, but I am really pleased to see such a wide range from Scotland, probably more than I was expecting. A point to note is that the earlier 19th C newspaper project is going to stand still, but this new site will continue to expand over the next 10 years - so a site to keep returning to for a while me thinks!

A major new resource, but please - add year ranges!

Now off to have a really good play...! :)

Chris

8 comments:

Alison said...

I tried the beta version earlier. Unfortunately mid Wales doesn't have a single newspaper - which is what I'm really interested in!

Rob said...

Unfortunately the quality of most of the OCR'ing makes the site nearly unusable unless you already know which newspaper to look in.

Many paragraphs of text are essentially unreadable in the transcription, so obviously can't be searched (or, to put it another way, it's quite unlikely the name of your ancestor will have been deciphered correctly, so it won't be indexed).

After using the site for a couple of hours, I haven't yet found anything worth signing up to view the images for. Doesn't help that one of the major cities I need has a gap in the local paper from 1820-1888 (basically anthing I'm interested in falls in that time).

I agree with you totally about the lack of year ranges. If you browse by title it does show the first and last years, and then if you select the title the filters on the left show how many editions in each year range.

But most people are going to be disappointed with the poor coverage and major gaps. Looks like it's really been rushed out, with OCR that simply isn't up to the job and way too many gaps in the titles that are present.

History Man said...

You point out one of the key problems with Victorian newspapers that there is a huge duplication in stories. One event is likely to be 'covered' in lots of different newspapers. Editors filled their papers with stories supplied by national press agencies, such as Reuters, or, on occasion, I suspect they reprinted pieces without permission. This was a way of providing a veneer of national coverage with little of the expense.
Only with the arrival of databases such as these have we realised their laziness.

History Man said...

A plus is that includes many 20th century newspapers. There was a fear that because of copyright concerns the project would finish about 1900, but instead the cut of date is 1949.

Chris Paton said...

Hi Simon - that's not actually the point I was making. It's the repetition of content being hosted on the new platform that already exists on the previous British newspaper digitisation project, rather than repetition of stories between titles! My point is that as it stands it may be advisable to run the British Library's 19th C collection in another window as you use it, for you may find that a story that might cost 7p on one is already available for free on another - if you have subscription access via a local library etc. It's also worth adding that subscription access to the 19th C collection via a library in most cases offers a fuller service than the pay per view version - for example the Dundee Courier is available only on the academic version via a library, and not on the PPV version. It is also now available on the new British Newspaper Archive, but you have to pay to access it there.

I'm only too aware of your point on story repetition though - my next book has involved the use of many newspaper titles from across the UK in 1866 and 1867, and it is amazing how often an error in one story pops up in another!

Chris

Scott said...

Hi Chris,

I agree with you about the repetition, it does seem a bit odd to cover 'old ground', especially when the OCR on the 19th Century Newspapers seems to be far superior than on this new site. I've tried quite a few searches on articles that I knew were on the 19th Century website but just don't come up at all here. Much of the OCR is absolute nonsense and doesn't help with searches at all. Having said that, it is nice to see some Fife coverage - even if it is a bit patchy.

I hope they are reading your blog comments!

Cheers,

Scott

Chris Paton said...

I've experienced the same thing Scott, finds on one site but not the other, so the OCR does seem to be of a lower standard. A browse facility might be of use, even if at 7p a time per page. If, as I have done, a search for a particular event on a known date was made, being able to browse may pick up something that poor OCR may not. But it is in beta still, and the point of a beta is to pick up on problems etc, so hopefully the teams are picking up on similar comments and perhaps act on them.

Chris

Chris Paton said...

Simon - yes, 1949 very handy! Worth knowing that Glasgow Herald, on the site, is actually completely free and available up to 1990 at Google News, at http://news.google.com/newspapers

Chris