Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Digitisation of BL Collections      Update  @21012016

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. Since this paper was written in January 2015, there are a number of updates relating to individual projects. These are added to the 2015 list, in red below.

If you want to find out what BL staff are currently posting via BL blogs, there is a complete list of BL blogs. The ten most popular blogs are listed on this homepage. A great deal of work is reflected in these blogs, and they may provide you with links to works that you may want to research further.
British Library Digital Collections – this page has developed and provides quite a number of links (an index) to now digitised portions of BL collections, collections from other libraries/ archives, and digital projects which combine content from BL collections and from other libraries or archives.
The list divides into: Datasets; Images; Books/ Texts; Music; Maps; Sounds; Broadcast News. (Some of the collections listed now may duplicate links listed for this paper in 2015.)
The links are provided below for you to go to.
Data sets
Images: British Library Labs – This provides a list of portions of the BL collections that have been digitised.
Books/ Texts
Broadcast News
BL Digital Scholarship blog

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.

1.5 Spare Rib enters the digital age: all 239 editions of the landmark feminist magazine published online for the first time.
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

5.1 To find out what has been digitised, search and follow the links from:

5.2 International Digital Library of Hebrew Manuscripts. (Activity planned to increase manuscripts already scanned.)

5.3 Qatar Digital Library is free to use and reuse.
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
What is new: 5 million images now online! The latest digital collections include archival documents from Belém do Pará, Brazil and from Tamale, Ghana, and murals on temple walls and ceilings in Tamil Nadu, India. Follow our blog to find out more.
The EAP Blog gives a lot of details about the work and highlights of the programme.
9. The International Dunhuang Project: The Silk Road Online

10. BL Sound recordings

10.1 Read the background to the BL Sound Archive at:
10.2 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:
10.3 WOMAD stands for the World of Music, Arts and Dance. This weekend's (in 2015) WOMAD festival in Charlton Park, Malmesbury, will mark 30 years of collaboration with the British Library Sound Archive. The British Library’s relationship with WOMAD is nearly as long as the festival's existence. Since 1985, missing only 3 years, a team of Library sound archivists have spent an enjoyable weekend making audio recordings of many of the performances, workshops and activities at this world music event for future generations of researchers. Altogether they have amassed over 2000 hours of music and over 2200 individual recordings, including a significant number of early UK appearances by artists who, since their appearance at WOMAD, have made great inroads on the international music scene; artists such as Baaba Maal (first recorded by the British Library at WOMAD in 1991), Thomas Mapfumo (1990) and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (1985), to cite only a few.
10.4 Jewish Survivors of the Holocaust – an online collection of over 280 in-depth Holocaust survivors’ testimonies – recordings

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.

Edmund M B King
January 2016

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