Launched this past November, the British Newspaper Archives is a joint project of the British Library and brightsolid online publishing. Over the next decade, this partnership is slated to digitize over 40 million pages of the BL’s newspaper collection. The site anticipates a wide audience that includes not only scholars but amateur historians, genealogists and more.
While the project often digitizes the original paper copies, it has also digitized from the BL’s microfilm copies because the process is faster and enables more pages to be made available in a shorter amount of time. The quality of the pages, however, does suffer as the website admits; unfortunately, this emphasis on speed means that the accuracy of the search results is forever sacrificed. That said, one can view the OCR text and correct it:
When viewing an image, the OCR text can be viewed via the left nav All Articles option. You can select an individual article and then select Show Article text and the text. This addictive option can be accessed by simply clicking the list of sections displayed and applying your own corrections. By correcting the text, you will be adding to the quality of the data that can be searched by others. Please note that during the launch period updates to corrections will take longer to appear. (“Getting Started”)
The site’s descriptive information suggests that the collection dates primarily from the nineteenth century on, but there are 24 eighteenth-century provincial newspaper titles available in the current collection (full list appears below). As of yet, there are no eighteenth-century London papers. Like Burney, the British Newspaper Archives is a subscription database. Unlike Burney, though, provisions for individual subscriptions exist. The rates also seem quite reasonable and offer an array of plans (credits refer to the number of views; each view “costs” 5 credits; the view option enables you to download or printing):
- 12 Month Package (unlimited pages)
Price: £79.95 GBP, Valid For: 365 days Credits: Unlimited*
- 30 Day Package (up to 600 pages)
Price: £29.95 GBP Valid For: 30 days Credits: 3000
- 7 Day Package (up to 120 pages)
Price: £9.95 GBP Valid For: 7 days Credits: 600
- 2 Day Package (up to 100 pages)
Price: £6.95 GBP Valid For: 2 days Credits: 500
Potential users are also able to register using an email address and receive 15 free credits—-a very limited trial of sorts.
Searches can be conducted either as simple or advanced. The advanced search includes searching by “All of these words,” “Any of these words,” “Without these words,” and “Phrase.” You also have the option of applying filters such as dates, place of publication, publication title, or article type (advertisement, article, family notice, illustrated, miscellaneous). There is also the option of browsing by titles. Unfortunately, you cannot use the wildcard characters to help counteract the poor OCR, long “f,” or other typographical peculiarities that the Burney search interface provides. Nor does the BNA offer features similar to Burney’s search aids such as the “w” or “n” joined by a number to find two terms within a certain proximity of one another.
Search results can be ordered by relevance or by date (either by ascending or descending order), and a glimpse of the context in which the search term results occur are given. For example,
Sat 10 Jan 1784 Suffolk, England
5 U F F O L K. 1 0 be Ll’. TT, ant! enlered upon immediatrly, THAT olil*aeculbmed Public Honic,
“SfMON PATERNOSTER of Wickhairi-market, to be agent for the faitl company for the town of Wiek- ham.market, and parts adjacent. The company infure lioufeS, bufrdings, … ?
As this example demonstrates, the context provides the OCR text with all its warts. Still, it helps the user decide if the article is worth viewing and assists in conserving the credits in one’s account.
CAVEAT: During my two-day exploration of the BNA, I encountered several cases in which I clicked to view an article only to discover the article was not on that page. Five credits were still deducted from my account and continued to be deducted as I browsed other pages in the issue. Once or twice I was not able to find the result at all; other times it appeared on a different page within that issue.
Here is a list of eighteenth-century titles currently available in BNA:
- Aberdeen Journal (105)
- Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette (1989)
- Birmingham Gazette (8)
- Bristol Mercury (1)
- Caledonian Mercury (7309)
- Chelmsford Chronicle (329)
- Derby Mercury (2595)
- Hampshire Chronicle (1115)
- Hampshire Telegraph (11)
- Hereford Journal (982)
- Ipswich Journal (1203)
- Ipswich Journal, The (1296)
- Kentish Gazette (374)
- Leeds Intelligencer (2352)
- Manchester Mercury (223)
- Newcastle Courant (2561)
- Norfolk Chronicle (1109)
- Northampton Mercury (1625)
- Oxford Journal (2434)
- Reading Mercury (570)
- Salisbury and Winchester Journal (17)
- Scots Magazine, The (611)
- Sherborne Mercury (256)
- Sussex Advertiser (60)