British Library still doesn’t get it

The BBC has a belated but fawning story today, Just click for a century of news:

The British Library has put two million digitised pages from 19th century newspapers online, taking research out of its dusty reading rooms into people’s homes.

The pay-as-you-go service brings a century of history alive from Jack the Ripper to WC Grace. (etc)

Ah.  So, “just click”, eh?  What use is this to most of us?  Access for the privileged only, it seems.  Can you imagine any of us paying for this? 

But there is more, and worse, at the British Library site, where the new government “Digital Britain” report is discussed.

Digitising content

Dame Lynne said: “I welcome the fact that Lord Carter specifically referenced the British Library’s Nineteenth British Century Newspapers digitisation programme as an example of how new business models can enable national institutions to work with commercial partners and funding bodies to make millions of pages of historic content available online to researchers and the public. We are sitting on a goldmine of content which should be considered integral to the UK’s digital strategy. To support Digital Britain we need to deliver a critical mass of digitised content – sustained public investment, along with the innovative business models cited in Lord Carter’s report, will enable us to achieve this.”

I’ll bet she does.   Who else would endorse the idea of selling access, but the man who has just proposed taxing internet access? 

The reference to access for  “the public” is tacked on, as an afterthought.  The British Library, indeed, doesn’t exist to serve the public — in the opinion of all too many of its staff.  The vision of universal access to information and education is debased into a vision of more income for themselves.

There needs to be a culture change at the British Library.  The people who see the collection purely as a windfall to be exploited for their own budgetary gain need to be eased out.   An open-source public service attitude needs to replace it.  And it will.

It’s easy to get depressed by how out of touch the management of the British Library is.  Yet the pressure for open access grows stronger all the time.  The very idea of charging for this will seem absurd or disgusting in 10 years time.  Every year a flood of new staff will enter the British Library, carrying their iPhones with their built-in digital cameras and their WiFi-enabled devices of various sorts; and will try not to laugh at the policies they find.  These people will bring about the revolution.


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