16 November 2009

British Library's Bitter Digital Milestone

Oh look, the British Library thinks it has passed a milestone:

The British Library has added the 500,000th item to its long-term Digital Library System. The milestone item was a digitised copy of a newspaper originally published in 1864 and scanned as part of the Library's 19th Century British Library Newspapers project, which recently made more than 2 million pages of historic newspapers available online at http://newspapers.bl.uk/blcs/

In eight pages of densely-packed text, The Birmingham Daily Post dated Monday 19 December 1864 offers a vivid snapshot of life 145 years ago. Along with accounts of an 82-year-old man who died after falling out of bed and two men before the courts for bigamy, the paper also reports on President Lincoln recommending to the US congress the passing of a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery, and 'a number of the worst "roughs" of the town' who pelted churchgoers with snowballs after several inches of snow had fallen.

The digitised newspaper joins hundreds of thousands of other items including e-journals, digital sound recordings, born-digital material received through voluntary deposit arrangements with publishers andmore than 65,000 19th century digitised books. The Digital Library System within which these items are now stored has been developed by the British Library to enable long term storage of the digital material that forms an increasing proportion of the nation's intellectual output.

Fab stuff...except:

To access the subscription-based articles in this database, you will need to first register as a user and then purchase either

* A 24-hour pass that provides you access to 100 articles over that period.
* A 7-day pass that provides you access to 200 articles over that period.

Cost?

a 24-hour pass for £6.99 allowing you to view up to 100 articles, or a seven-day pass with 200 article views for £9.99

That is: digitising content that is out of copyright, in the public domain, and then making us pay through the nose - us as in muggins public, which has kept the British Library going for two centuries thanks to our taxes, in case you'd forgotten - for the privilege of viewing it online.

Thanks a bunch, BL, for locking up "an increasing proportion of the nation's intellectual output" behind a paywall, where few will ever see it: that's what spreading knowledge is all about, isn't it? Great work from a quondam great institution, more millstone than milestone...

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12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for keeping your eye on the British Library. I have been increasingly worried about their direction. These and your previous posts have confirmed my fears.

glyn moody said...

Unfortunately, no one else seems to care much. Here's one of the leading British institutions (nominally, at least), locking down knowledge, and no outcry, no nothing...

brianlj said...

Someone should screen-shot and OCR them and host them for free. Let's see... a 7-day pass costs £10 for 200 articles. That's 5p each.

500,000 articles would cost £25,000, but would take 48 years to get. Tricky.

It might be quicker to opt for the 1-day pass @ £7 / 100. That'd cost £35,000 but you could get it done in 14 years.

No, I think the 7-day pass is the better option.

If you 7 people, you could each get 200 articles a day. That would mean that each person would only have to pay £3570 but it would get done in under 7 years.

Or... if we had 7 times 7 people we could do the job in a year and it would only cost those 49 people (ok, let's say 50) about £500!

Of course, if you knew someone who was in higher or further education we could use their free pass. They (the elitist swine) are entitled to an automatic 'in' and can see as much of the BL content as they want. They'll all be out drinking and won't mind teams of people using their uni-library card.

Oh! even better would be to go to our *own* local libraries and log on to the BL from there for free. If were discreet about it, I'm sure the library staff would never suspect what we were doing.

glyn moody said...

@brianlj: sounds like you've got the job organising this, then...

Crosbie Fitch said...

More can be made of the irony re the abolition of slavery, and yet the BL's insistence it should continue to respect and exploit the 18th century privilege that suspends the liberty of British citizens to make copies.

Someone should ask them what punishment they would see meted out to any mere mortal who dared to share the cultural works the BL had digitised.

A few million quid? Disconnection from the Internet? Imprisonment? Blinding in one or both eyes? A hundred lashes and the removal of a hand?

brianlj said...

I've just realised that I've blown my cover.

If I go down to my local library and print out loads of this stuff from the BL for free and stick it up on the net where everyone can get it for free, they'll be able to link my Google identity to my Twitter identity and hence my Twitpic identity and they'll see a picture of my library card on my desk!

Forget all this blinding and lashes and stuff... they'll cancel my bloomin' library membership!

Oh, foolish Brian! You should never have put things up on the net for all to see!

glyn moody said...

@brianlj: ah yes, two-edged sword this computer lark...

brianlj said...

Ain't it just! ;)

John Levin said...

And get a load of the copyright restrictions

Enclosure, pure and simple.

glyn moody said...

@John: wow, great link...terrible terms...

JURN said...

Perhaps we need to establish a principle that the material is charged for for a period (three years?), and then once digitisation costs have been recovered it's released into the public domain.

glyn moody said...

@JURN: that would certainly be better than the present system.

Personally, I'd prefer the BL to get a grant from UK taxapayers - i.e., me - to do this, and then make it freely available.