Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Digitisation of British Library collections

A great number of printed books, manuscripts, and other BL collection items have been digitised in recent years. This paper briefly outlines some of the sources now available online. Some of the links will be to databases, which are only available if you register and pay a subscription. Other links will be to data which is free to use. If you are able to secure a British Library reader pass, then most of the databases are likely be free to use within a British Library Reading Room at St Pancras.

1. BL Printed books digitised and online
1.1 A great deal has been done by Gale Cengage, and lists of collections available are at

1.2. Gale has made available ECCO (eighteenth century collections online), based upon the BL English short title catalogue. You can cross search both ECCO and EEBO (Early English books online)

1.3. The Microsoft BL 19th century (British) books project was originally announced in 2008:

An outcome of this has been the upload of one  million pages of these books onto Flickr

1.4 If you know the title or  author you can search for a book at BL explore
Similarly, you can search for a specific book in the BL printed books catalogue. If you encounter the SFX code within a catalogue entry, when you say you want to see the book, you are able to download the entire book as a .pdf file. You can then go offline and read or search the .pdf file. Alternatively, you can use the ‘Item viewer’ facility to view the pages.
All of the above should be available for free consultation in BL Reading rooms at St Pancras.

2. Newspapers
The most recent, and largest, online database is the British Newspapers Archive. Some 9.5 million pages of 18th and 19th and 20th century newspapers have been scanned and are searchable.
It is free to consult in BL St. Pancras reading rooms. Outside the Library, once you have registered and paid a subscription, it can be consulted anywhere where online access is available.

3. BL Music collections digitised and online
To find out what has been digitised, follow the links from:
4. BL map collections digitised and online
To find out what has been digitised, follow the links from:

5. BL Manuscripts digitised and online
To find out what has been digitised, search and follow the links from:

6.  Selected items that have been digitised by the British Library
BL online gallery – some 30,000 images digitised from a variety of BL collections

BL online exhibitions
BL ‘Turning the pages’/ virtual books.
7. Endangered Archives Programme

8. Renaissance Festival Books

9. The International Dunhuang Project: The Silk Road Online 


10. BL Sound recordings

Read the background to the BL Sound Archive at:
Only a small amount of recordings have been digitised. This is most probably due to copyright restrictions. In some ways, the development of websites such as Spotify (which has over 9 million recordings) might remove the need for the BL to seek funds to carry out large scale digitisation of recorded music.
To gain a view of what may be available, (digitised or not), see:

11. UK Web Archiving
Activity in this area has been brought about by the rapid development of the Internet, and of thousands of websites that now use it to promote their services. The BL is in collaboration with the other UK national libraries to capture and archive the UK web domain content.

The BL is constantly looking for ways to increase the amount of its collections that can be digitised. Within a few years, more listing will be necessary to update what is available.

Edmund M B King
January 2015

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