British newspapers online update, April 2013

Having updated my list of online early 20th century British newspapers, I have mostly good news to report. The most exciting development comes from Wales. I have previously lamented the total lack of digitised Welsh newspapers from the period 1901-1950, and it appears that in large part the reason for this is that the National Library of Wales has been busy scanning and OCRing, and the first fruits of its labours are now available at the Welsh Newspapers Online site. Already there are 14 titles available, some in Welsh, some in English, some in both:

Aberdare Times
Aberystwyth Observer
Llangollen Advertiser and North Wales Journal
London Kelt
London Welshman
Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser
Prestatyn Weekly
Seren Cymru
Swansea Gazette and Daily Shipping Register
Tarian Y Gweithiwr

Future digitisation plans are ambitious: I count 55 titles with 20th century content scheduled to added later this year, and there's more to come, including many journals. The OCR quality seems very high, which is crucial for search, and the article interface is really very nice and pleasant to use. Best of all, Welsh Newspapers Online is completely free. It's fantastic that Wales has decided to make its cultural heritage open to the world in this way; most other UK newspaper archives are locked up behind a paywall.

I do have some concerns, however. One is that there is no advanced search function, where you would be able to construct complex queries, as well as specify date ranges. However, this will be added in the future, along with other improvements -- the site is in beta, after all. For now, you can actually use boolean operators like AND, OR and NOT in the basic search box (by default, search terms are ORed). Furthermore, you can use the year slider to narrow down the search period. Once you go to the results page, you can also use Trove-style filters to drill down to specific years, months and days of interest. It would be better to be able to be able to input a start date and an end date, but hopefully that functionality will appear in future. Another concern I have is the period covered. It's clear from looking at the current and planned digitisations that there is a cutoff date of 1910, as nothing currently listed goes beyond that year. Perhaps this has something to do with copyright, though I'm not aware of 103 years being a particularly significant number in that respect. Or maybe the project started in 2010 and began with an arbitrary 100 year BP scope. Whatever the reason, it's a real shame because it means that, for example, both world wars are excluded; or to take another, more local, example, the Tonypandy riots of 1910 are in but the defeat of the strikes in 1911 is out. (More selfishly, Wales played an important role in both phantom airship scares: I'll now be able to research the 1909 one in the Welsh press but not the 1913 one.) Of course, absent full and universal coverage boundary problems like this will always arise. But Welsh Newspapers Online seems to be the most chronologically limited of the big national newspaper digitisation projects (next would be Chronicling America, which stops at 1922; Gallica goes to 1944, Papers Past to 1945, the British Newspaper Archive (BNA) to 1950, mostly, and Trove to 1954, mostly), so it would be interesting to know why this is and helpful to know if it will change in future.

Otherwise, BNA has the most new content. There are only a few entirely new titles:

Aberdeen Daily Express
Arbroath Herald and Advertiser for the Montrose Burghs
Kent & Sussex Courier
Luton Times and Advertiser

Only the Luton Times is covered for more than a few years (though the Aberdeen Daily Express is covered for the First World War); and the Arbroath Herald only for two or three issues a year. But a number of other newspapers already in the archive have had their coverage increased considerably: by 31 years for the Cheltenham Chronicle, 18 for the Gloucester Journal, 12 for the Grantham Journal, 28 for the Lichfield Mercury, 13 for the Sunday Post, and 47 for the Taunton Courier. That's in addition to a few years added here and there for other titles. So it's good to see BNA continue to expand.

In fact, all of the major newspaper archives have something new this time around. After having slated Newspaper Archive for dropping all of its British content later than 1904 (even worse than Welsh Newspapers Online!), I'm happy to report that it has added three titles covering periods into the First World War. One is the American Register under various titles, which appears to have catered for American expatriates in Europe and so is only of specialised interest. But the other two will be genuinely useful for British historians: the Evening News (to 1918) and the Standard (to 1916). (Unfortunately, there's no sign of the Daily Mail's return.) Irish Newspaper Archives has added the Donegal News from 1903. And ukpressonline has added the Maidstone South Eastern Gazette (to 1912) and added 42 years of coverage for Church Times.

Some miscellaneous notes. The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times was a free teaser for the British Library's British Newspapers 1800-1900 collection, but that has now closed due to the coming of BNA. So the Penny Illustrated Paper has disappeared from the BL's site, but to date has not reappeared at BNA. BNA lists the Northants Evening Telegraph, which was published in Kettering. However, if you look at the paper itself, it turns out that it's actually the Dublin Evening Telegraph. So I've moved it to the Irish section. Finally, because the England section was getting a bit unwieldy I've split it into provincial and London sections (where two of Welsh Newspapers Online's titles have ended up as they were published there).

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3 thoughts on “British newspapers online update, April 2013

  1. Hi Brett,

    I'm the Head of ICT at the National Library of Wales and would like to thank you for your post about our Historical Newspapers website. We're very glad to receive feedback, especially when the writer gives plenty of detail as you've done!

    To try and address some of the points that you've raised:

    Yes, advanced search will be coming soon. We had some issues with returning entirely correct result sets shortly before our launch and decided to pull it rather than put out a buggy version.

    The 1910 cutoff *is* a copyright issue. You rightly guessed that the project decided on a 100-year window in 2010 and has made attempts to locate any copyright holders that may exist on any material that we've published or plan to publish. You'll see that while titles which ended their runs earlier in the 19th century we've noted as 'free of copyright restrictions', the later titles we've noted as 'unknown copyright status'.

    The good news is that we're also partners in a JISC WW1 project and the work of scanning and processing material for that project will add the content to our Historic Newspapers website. You can see a list of titles which we'll be adding 1914-1918 for that project here:

    We're hoping to find funding to close the 'gap' between 1910 and 1914 as well.

    I'm glad that you seem to like the site - please submit any comments, bug reports or suggestions for improvements via the site as well, so that the project team can capture them and feed them into future developments.

  2. Post author

    Thanks for the response! I definitely do like it: even aside from the fact that, pretty much, any digitised newspaper is better than the offline equivalent, the central part of the user experience -- i.e. actually looking at articles and pages -- is definitely one of the best out there, even compared with Trove. Of course you have to be concerned about copyright, and you can't do much without funding; so I'm glad that the First World War years will be coming online, and with any luck the years in between too. In any case I'm sure I'll be returning to WNO frequently!

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