Digital Transformation

Digitisation and robots help preserve the national memory

An intriguing article by The Guardian explains how ‘robots’ are helping to preserve old newspapers.

Archivists in a Yorkshire outpost of the British Library are using the very latest conservation technology in a race to digitise 300 years of newspapers before they fade into oblivion.

A gigantic robotic vault – the National Newspaper Building in Boston Spa – is the British Library’s high-tech approach to safeguarding what it calls “the national memory”; 750 million pages of news, covering more than three centuries, as reported in papers across the nation.

Alasdair Bruce, Manager of the British Library Newspaper Programme, says: “We’re adding something like 1,200 titles every week,” – with content ranging from murder cases to local marriage notices and political turmoil to humanitarian crisis.

Preserving such a vast amount of data is no small endeavour – as Bruce points out: “[Newspapers] are intended to be used once and then thrown away,” – due to their make-up, newspapers are fragile, prone to yellowing – and eventually, decay. To this end, the team at the British Library are hoping that the new facility will go a long way towards preserving these vital pieces of history.

However, one clear solution to the problem is very apparent – digitisation.

While many popular titles are already on microfilm, in a bid to save the originals from wear and tear (hard copies are only allowed out in special cases), access to them is limited to the British Library’s reading rooms. On the other hand, niche publications only exist in hard format and must be called up from the robotic vaults of Boston Spa.

This is where the digitisation suite comes in. A team from Findmypast (a family history service collaborating with the British Library to create the British Newspaper Archive) is working away to digitise older publications. Around 750 paper pages are digitised each day, from issues dating up to the 1955 copyright cut-off. Character recognition software is making the collection more searchable and new technologies are anticipated to make the task even quicker.

Read the full article via The Guardian:

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