15 January 2009

The Burney Collection: But, But, But...

The largest single online collection of English news media from the 17th and 18th centuries, the Burney Collection, is now available free of charge for the first time to Higher and Further Education institutions and Research Councils across the UK.

The Burney Collection offers unique insights into two centuries of history through access to over 1,270 newsbooks, newspapers, pamphlets and a variety of other news materials published in England, Ireland and Scotland, plus papers from British colonies in Asia and the Americas.

Digitised through a partnership between the National Science Foundation and the British Library then developed and hosted online by Gale/Cengage Learning4, the digital version of the Burney Collection has been purchased in perpetuity by JISC Collections on behalf of the UK academic and research community at a national level, following an open and transparent procurement process.

Well, that's jolly great...but: given that these are *public* collections, and have been digitised with *public* money, is it really too much to ask if hoi polloi like me might be granted a little bit of access to this great stuff?


Anonymous said...

I'd really like some comfort that the originals are safe. I'm reading Nicholson Baker's "Double Fold" at the moment, which catalogues the systematic destruction of newspaper archives in the name of progress (but really in the name of space-saving) by committing them to microfilm, itself of dubious longevity.

The press release makes reference to the microfilm archives, but also talks about the fragility of the originals, so I'm hoping this means that the originals have not been destroyed in the original microfilm scanning process. I'd also be interested to know if the digital scans are of the originals, or of the microfilm.

As a bar student, I spent many a happy hour browsing the archives of the Gentleman's Quarterly in the Inner Temple Library, (they had a pretty much complete set from the 17th century onwards) instead of doing my set assignments, and I can concur with Baker that old documents are generally much less fragile than the scanning-fanatics would have you believe (even the 19th century ones made with wood-pulp paper which are aupposed to all have crumbled to dust by now).

Don't get me wrong: I'm 100% behind making this material accessible to as many people as possible, but only where it doesn't mean the original source material is destroyed in the process.

Glyn Moody said...

Absolutely: not instead of, but as well as.