The New Newsroom at the British Library

Stewart Gillies, British Library

The British Library’s Newsroom opened to researchers on Monday 7 April and is the new dedicated Reading Room for researching the Library’s news collections. It is the first new Reading Room to be opened at the Library’s St Pancras site in almost a decade and replaces the old Colindale Newspaper Library which was closed in November last year. For the first time since 1932, it allows researchers to study the news collections alongside books, journals and other collection materials from the British Library’s general reference collection.

The opening of the Newsroom was a key milestone in the Library’s £33 million seven-year Newspaper Programme, designed to ensure the long-term preservation of the UK’s collection of newspapers by building a state of the art store in Boston Spa, Yorkshire and to provide improved reader access to the collection at the Library’s St Pancras and Boston Spa sites.

The name of the new St Pancras reading room was chosen to reflect the Library’s recently developed strategy for turning its world famous printed newspaper service into a world-class news service. The traditional newspaper is now of course only one of the many formats to carry news. The British Library’s news offering is being developed to incorporate the full range of news media – newspapers, news websites, television news, radio news, and other media, through a combination of legal deposit, purchase and voluntary deposit, and capture through copyright exception. The News collections include 60 million newspaper issues (from the 1600s onwards), 25,000 news-based websites (archived since 2013) and over 40,000 television and radio programmes (mostly recorded since 2010). The collection grows by over 2,400 news publications each week – 1,500 newspapers, 500 news websites, 280 television news programmes and 140 news radio programmes.

The Newsroom was designed as a modern research space to facilitate the study of news in all of these formats in one place. One of the most striking features of the Newsroom is the networking area at the front of the Reading Room which provides space for more collaborative working and discussion among news researchers. The networking area builds on the user behaviour and preferences that have been observed in the public areas of the British Library, and on market research the Library has carried out including focus groups with current readers and non-readers. The networking area has different kinds of seating arrangements and many charging points for researchers’ own devices. As it is a public area and a Reader Pass is not required to enter, it also provides an opportunity to show-case and promote the Library’s news collections in all formats to a wider audience. There is a large video wall which currently features live TV news feeds and news websites which we archive and which can also be used to show archived news from our collection, whether in video format, or digitised images from our print collection. There is also a separate projected Twitter feed showing tweets from the news websites that the Library archives so this serves as both a live news feed and a picture of the news being archived by the Library as it is published (we don’t archive Twitter itself, however).

A glass wall separates the networking area from the Reading Room space and allows general visitors to the Library a view into the world of research in British Library Reading Rooms. It is hoped that this view may inspire some of them to become fully fledged British Library Readers.

Researchers wishing to use the main Reading Room will need a current British Library Reader Pass before they can use the Room. In the Reading Room there are 107 reader spaces including 40 multi-media workstations which allow researchers to access the TV & radio news, archived news websites, licensed online content such as a large range of digitised newspapers and the British Library’s catalogues. Each of these multi-media workstations is attached to a digital microfilm scanner which allows the same workstation to be used to view and copy from microfilmed newspapers. One of the most popular features of the Newsroom has proved to be the increased amount of microfilmed newspapers available for immediate access. In Colindale, there was room only for The Times on the open shelves; in the Newsroom in addition, you can find the top 15 most highly requested microfilmed titles including the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail, the Sun and the Evening Standard. The remainder of the microfilm collection (some 625,000 reels of microfilm) has been moved to basement storage in the St Pancras building and can be delivered to the Newsroom within 70 minutes.

In addition to the top newspaper microfilms, researchers also have access to a wealth of open access printed material on news media to support their research. This includes newspaper bibliographies; sets of important historic and current press directories such as Mitchell’s Newspaper Press Directory, Benn’s Media Guide and Willing’s Press Guide; published newspaper indexes; and a collection of monographs on news media history and the news media industry.

The vast print newspaper collection is currently being moved from Colindale to the new Newspaper Storage Building in Boston Spa and will become available to order again in autumn 2014. Once available, readers will be able to order print newspapers where there is no digital or microfilm surrogate available. Print items will be delivered to the Newsroom within 48 hours.

The Colindale Newspaper Library had a diverse and loyal group of regular users including academic researchers, journalists, creative writers, family historians, sports historians and newspaper enthusiasts. We very much hope that these researchers will migrate to St Pancras and enjoy using not only the traditional print media collections but also the other formats which are now available alongside them.

Our aim for the Newsroom is not simply to be the place where researchers access these different news forms, but to facilitate the connection between them and allow researchers to study any news collection item in its wider context and achieve new research outputs based on interlinked news media resources.

Above all by bringing access to the news collections into the heart of the British Library’s St Pancras building, we hope to transform and increase awareness of the collections for both current and future generations of users.

Further information on the Newsroom and the British Library News collections can be found at