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The Derry Standard - click to enlarge
[© British Library Board]

The story of the United Kingdom over the past two hundred years is recorded in local newspapers, which grew from the late 1700s, exploded in the 1800s and developed into the vibrant local press we enjoy today.

From an agrarian landscape to the industrial revolution, the growth of empire, improvements in education and housing, electoral reform and two world wars, local newspapers have recorded the every-day life of communities throughout the United Kingdom.

This wonderful legacy, however, requires action to save it. Without an urgent, planned programme of preservation many titles will be lost.


Until the early 1800s, paper was generally made from linen and, sometimes, cotton rags, which produced a very stable and robust medium. With advances in industrialisation and literacy came a demand for larger quantities of cheaper paper, particularly for the growing newspaper sector.

Paper manufacturers turned to wood pulp as their new raw material. Bleached by chemicals, this new resource was plentiful and created paper that met the twin aims of the newspaper sector - lightness and cheap costs.

Problems with Newsprint

However, newsprint has high levels of lignin from the wood used to make wood pulp. This produces paper that reacts chemically with the atmosphere, particularly humidity and light, causing discoloration and making the paper very fragile over time.

So while newsprint is ideal for the newspaper industry, it creates problems for librarians, archivists, researchers and historians who wish to preserve this resource and have access to the contents within. As the value of the intellectual property content of the paper increases in time, so ironically the physical strength of the paper decreases.

Historical runs of newspapers are increasingly used by all sectors of society, from academics to school pupils, genealogists to local historians. Allowing continuing access to newspapers in their original physical form increases the risk of damage.

The most effective method to save the content of these newspapers from their own in-built self-destruction and heavy use is to preserve them on a medium that is robust, stable, and long-lasting.

35mm Archival Quality Microfilm

The NEWSPLAN 2000 Project has selected 35mm archival quality microfilm as the method to secure our local newspaper heritage. When created to archival quality by following internationally accepted standards, microfilm has a life estimated to in excess of three hundred years. It can also be subsequently scanned to a digital format for enhanced access.

While the direct digitisation and electronic storage of newspapers may appear to be a more modern approach, a number of factors should be considered. Electronic capture is not common for large bound newspaper volumes, and there are many problems in storing large electronic files and their stability cannot be guaranteed. The decisions made by the Project are firmly in line with current international thinking on this issue.

Future Developments

The Project does however keep an open mind on future developments, which is why it will support existing research and will remain closely abreast of all developments in the field of scanning microfilm and manipulating the digitised image. In particular, NEWSPLAN 2000 wants to explore the potential to change image files to text files and so allow free-text searching of historic runs of newspapers.

At this time, the Project believes that this 'hybrid' approach is the best approach for newspaper preservation and access.

The NEWSPLAN 2000 Project, British Library Newspaper Library, Colindale Avenue, LONDON, NW9 5HE | Tel: 020 7412 7371