Preserving and Digitizing Newspapers

Archivists using the latest conservation technology are racing to digitize 300 years of newspapers before they crumble to dust – and that’s just for starters. The Guardian has published a fascinating story about a huge project by a team from the British Library that is preserving newspapers. The article says:

A gigantic robotic vault, the National Newspaper Building in Boston Spa, near Leeds, is the British Library’s high-tech approach to safeguarding what it rather endearingly terms “the national memory” – 750m pages of news, covering more than three centuries of goings-on, as reported in papers across the nation. From political turmoil to humanitarian crisis, murder cases to local marriage notices, it’s all here. And it’s growing. “We’re adding something like 1,200 titles every week,” says Alasdair Bruce, manager of the British Library Newspaper Programme.

Preserving an aging memory is no small feat. Conservators up and down the country are waging war with time itself to battle deterioration of our documents, be it Magna Carta, celebrating its 800th anniversary this year, or yesterday’s broadsheet.

The picture to the right shows London Metropolitan Archives principal archivist Philippa Smith holding a newspaper that wasn’t preserved properly.

The full article may be found at


Hmm … the Guardian caption for the image says “London Metropolitan Archives principal archivist Philippa Smith holding a City of London freedom register from the 17th and 18th centuries destroyed beyond repair in the fire of 1786.” Is a freedom register a newspaper? Is a fire improper preservation?


    —> Is a fire improper preservation?

    I would think so. Preserving paper strikes me as a process to protect an important paper document, including newspapers, from all the things that can damage or destroy it, including fire, mildew, water damage, insect damage, and more. If you read the article, you will see that the efforts at the facility are designed to reduce all those risks although you can never eliminate them entirely. In addition, there is a contractual arrangement with FindMyPast to scan and digitize the papers in order to make multiple digital copies and store those copies in other locations in case of a major catastrophe. In short, it looks like a major effort to protect the information against as many problems as possible.


    Sally J – Thanks for letting us know about this misleading/false caption. Of course a fire isn’t lack of preservation, especially one that took place in 1786, long before preservation was even on anyone’s agenda.


Hi – Slight caption mix up – Philippa Smith is not holding up a newspaper but important burnt document . Early newspapers are remarkably robust being made out of old rag – even late 19th century newspapers can be gently flattened and scanned for preservation I unbundled over 1000 copies of the Irish Police Gazette in the evenings pre Christmas which has not be read probably since they were put away in the 1860’s – 1890’s – even partly burnt copies have been recovered ! Persistence and a knowledge of paper are the main assets !


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