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British Library goes Digital

Lynne Brindley, Chief Executive of the British Library, today predicted a switch from print to digital publishing by the year 2020. Speaking at the launch of the Library?s new three-year strategy, Lynne Brindley said:

?Most people are aware that a national switch to digital broadcasting is expected by the end of this decade. Less well known is the fact that a similar trend is underway in the world of publishing: by the year 2020, 40% of UK research monographs will be available in electronic format only, while a further 50% will be produced in both print and digital. A mere 10% of new titles will be available in print alone by 2020.

?This is a seismic shift, and one that we ? and our partners in the publishing and information industries ? need 2020 vision to prepare for to maintain Britain?s competitiveness across all sectors, from business to the arts, from science to education and culture.

?Our aim at the British Library is to develop the infrastructure to store, manage, preserve and provide access to digital material in the same way as we do for the ?physical? national collection that we and our predecessors have stewarded for the last 250 years. We have worked hard over the past few years to secure the legislation we need (digital legal deposit), work with partners such as publishers and build the necessary systems. This is about preservation and management ? we will provide far more than just access to digital items.?

The British Library?s collection already covers every information format from bones to bytes. The Library will build on its work in collecting digital items, digitising existing collections, and archiving websites, to set up the infrastructure to hold the national collection of digital items in the same way as the organisation manages the 150 million item national collection of books, manuscripts, sound recordings, patents, stamps and maps.

?In many ways digital material is more fragile than physical material and if we don?t manage it effectively it won?t survive for future generations. Collecting and managing digital material needs specialist skills. We will apply the skills of the country?s top information management specialists to the digital collection.?

The collection will include both items that were 'born digital' and those items in the British Library collections that have been digitised, such as Shakespeare?s Quartos and 19th Century newspapers. In 2003 the Library lobbied Parliament for legal deposit to be extended to electronic materials, including websites, and the Library now collects e-materials from a variety of sources to ensure that global research is rapidly available to UK researchers.

The Library will be using e-journals as a pilot for scoping and testing processes for their deposit over the forthcoming year. The journals will be stored within a shared, secure digital infrastructure shared with the other legal deposit libraries. The British Library will also work with national and international partners to further its innovative web-archiving strategy.

The British Library is to link the content of its collections to external digital resources to support the research process and will work with others who are developing digital information repositories to ensure that these are robust and cross-searchable to benefit the researcher. In partnership with JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee) the Library will create Virtual Research Environments to provide information services to facilitate the research process using these new tools.

?The national digital library is a key part of the UK?s research e-infrastructure,? says Lynne Brindley. ?We will develop new tools to help researchers in the digital world. We will be collaborating across the research community to guarantee that both text-based and data-based research outputs are preserved and available for the researchers of tomorrow.?





1. The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom. It exists for everyone who wants to do research ? for academic, personal or commercial purposes. The Library was founded in 1972 by an Act of Parliament which brought together eight institutions including the British Museum Library, and the National Lending Library for Science and Technology.
2. JISC is the Joint Information Systems Committee which is part of the Higher Education Funding Council for England.
3. The UK legal deposit libraries are the The British Library, the National Library of Scotland, the National Library of Wales, the Bodleian Library, Cambridge University Library, and Trinity College Dublin.
4. The Digital Library ? The digital storage facility itself will have strict quality and security controls. The system is uniquely designed to be tamper proof; once a digital item enters the system it is digitally ?signed? and ?catalogued? using metadata. This means that Library staff can check that it has not been tampered with or modified and is the same as when it was deposited. The system architecture is based on multiple ?nodes? which are independent of each other. This means that there are at least three copies of everything ? if one were to be destroyed, there is a back up. The system will include a quality control mechanism which will check the stored items regularly to ensure that they have not deteriorated in any way. There will also be a ?dark? or offline copy which will be stored separately in the unlikely case of catastrophic system failure. The system also enables the ?chain of custody? to be followed - the route the item has followed from the store to the Library user?s computer screen.
5. The Library will also continue its innovative digitisation programmes, following on from the success of the Turning the Pages project. It will work with partners on the bulk digitisation of significant collections such as the newspaper collection so that this primary resource is easily accessible and usable. This will build on the Library?s pioneering work with JISC which is giving searchable online access to two million sheets of our 19th Century newspaper collection. Significant sections of the Sound Archive will also be digitised, following on from the digitisation of 4,000 hours of sound as part of a JISC supported programme to improve access to sound for researchers, and work with DfES to give schools access to interpreted online sound resources.


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