British Library Resources For Researchers by Jude England


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An overview of the resources available to researchers at the British Library.

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  • As well as the wide scope of the audiences, researchers, we’re working with, is the size and scope of the BL and its collections. Hard to imagine. Not just books….. Did you know that………… One of top 5 libraries in world in terms of size of collections. Some 150 million items: over 13 million books; nearly 60,000 newspaper titles; 1.5 million sound discs and tapes 625 km of shelves; increasing at 12 km pa Newspaper and periodical collection from 1700s – huge range of regional and national papers; history of newspaper industry one of failure rather than success if think of number of titles that appear and disappear…. Also got magazines…. And comics…. And football fanzines…. And prizes and games attached to comics…. Official publication collection: comprehensive collection of legislation, government material, privy council judgments for UK since 1801; also pretty comprehensive for US; fairly comprehensive for Europe; India Office Records…. Still official registrar for those born, married, died in India prior to 1947….. But also got cookbooks of the moguls….. Oral history: fantastic oral history collections. Two examples – Millennium Memory Bank: joint project with BBC local radio and BL Sound Archive to create archival snapshot of ordinary Britons opinions and experiences and turn of the century; 16 themes – where we live, getting older, beliefs and fears, eating and drinking Food: from source to salespoint – charts technical and social changes taken place in Britain’s food industry in the 20 C and beyond. Life story recordings with people working at every level of the sector 271 recordings: ready-meal, poultry, sugar, meat and fish sectors. And: Tesco: an oral history and oral history of the wine trade……. Also – exhibitions as way of disseminating collections and content, public space, responsibility for the national printed archive.
  • Our website ( is the starting point for your research into our collections. Hopefully at least some of you have seen and are using this already. I’ve circled the two parts of our home page that I think are most useful to you. As you’d imagine, our website is very large and navigating around it gets confusing even for those of us who work here. The search box has been designed to make this much easier, and we’ve put a lot of thought into the way that this works over our website, to make sure that the results that you get really are the most relevant ones to you. For social sciences research, we’ve written a lot of subject pages and collection guides, particularly with researchers new to the Library in mind. These pages will often appear quite high in the list of results if you are searching for topics in these subjects. As well as searching our website, this box also provides a way in to both our library catalogue, where you’ll be able to locate our books, reports, maps, newspaper and journal titles etc; and you can also search across BL Direct to find details of thousands of recently-published articles, that can be consulted in Reading Rooms here or ordered through inter-library loan. For all of the resources that I’m going to be talking about, you will be able to find information on these quickly by using the search box. My challenge for all of you today is: next time you have something to find out about that you would usually use a search engine for, try using the search on our website instead. Let me know how you get on. Now, I want to move on to talk about a couple of resources that have been developed specifically with Higher and Further Education in mind.
  • Archival Sound Recordings and the Sound Archive Archival Sound Recordings is a very good example of the ways in which we are trying to make the “not obvious” collections more accessible. Digitised sound presents challenges to researchers in that full-text searching is not available. Often you need to know what you are looking for before you can find it. This resource opens out some of our collections, through describing and highlighting a selection from our sound archive, from a topic-based approach. Some of the topics that you can see here are: Accents and Dialects, environment and oral histories. Many of these can be browsed to find more-specific subject collections. ASR is free to all in H&FE, and has access to 12,000 digital files, plus images, transcripts, and in some cases, notes on grammar and lexicography. In many cases these are “clips” from longer recordings, all available at the Library. The collections can be thought of as the “tip of the iceberg” for our sound archive, but nevertheless, they provide a very good means of introduction, demonstrating how these resources can be used in different ways.
  • As an example, I’ve chosen two clips that I’d like to play to you. One is relatively recent, from the Millennium Memory Bank. The Memory Bank in total consists of thousands of interviews, roughly an hour in length, where people talk about their lives and experiences. The focus is on experience and change at a local community level, and the clips included in ASR have been chosen to show how the recordings can be used to study accents and dialects. I want to go back to their original intent and give an example of a child talking about how he raises income at home (and this is interesting also for what it says about lifestyle change within the family as a whole). [clip available at: , section at 2.07- 3.21 mins] The second example is from the oral history collection of Jewish survivors of the holocaust. The subject in this interview talks about his experience growing up as a refugee in the UK during the early years of the war, and in this clip talks about how he earned money as a school child. [clip available at: , section at 1.04- 2.00 mins] Like many of the examples that we are talking about today, collections brought together with one intent can be repurposed to investigate other questions. ASR can point to ways in which our Sound Archive can be interrogated. Our Sound Archive catalogue contains many thousands more records (and you can get to this from our catalogues home page).
  • The second digital resource that has been made available to all HE and FE is the 19th C digitised newspapers. Very similar comments apply to this resource too. The database contains some 10 million items indexed from 50 titles. Focus is on local/ regional papers. You can use the database to compare how a particular story has been reported across a number of publications and areas. As you might expect, a lot of the reports relating to children focus on poor conditions, and cases of mistreatment of children. The more unusual cases tend to get reported on more times. The example I have here is the result of a search for stories containing the two words “pocket money”, and comes from the Manchester Times and Gazette , 1835. It reports on a young boy, aged 17, who disappeared during a cholera epidemic. His parents some time later received a letter from the banks of the Missouri ‘stating that he had proceeded so far on his projected journey; but since leaving civilized parts he had been utterly without money ’ . The rest is real boys’ own adventures stuff.
  • The full-text of all of these articles is searchable, so you can look for quite specific events and uses of words and phrases over time and across the country. As well as this, a lot of care has been taken over preserving the original layout and feel of the newspapers, as well as content. You can, for example, search advertisements. A quite elaborate example can be found in the pages of the Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times , January 25 1896 (pg 59). It is an advertisement for Lever Bros, offering free paper toys, in return for proofs of purchase of their soaps. This is from the later 19th C and is quite unusual in its use of illustration. Mostly, the adverts that you find in the database are short, three or four lines of text. They are interesting both the goods and employment that they offer, but also for the evidence that they give of casual work and informal economy in the 19th C. One thing that you need to be aware of when searching this database is the changing language-use across time and between regions. “Pocket money” is a good example. Although by end of 19th C early 20th C it was being used to describe money given to children, this was not its exclusive use, in some cases being used to describe wages. At the start of the 19th C though it referred more literally to money that was carried about the person.
  • As with Archival Sound Recordings, this is “tip of the iceberg” with regard to our total holdings. The BL is only newspaper library of its kind in the world, extensive worldwide coverage. We continue to collect from around the world, increasingly in electronic format, although not exclusively so. The range of material that you can find here is far in excess of any electronic news database. As well as newspapers, we have been collecting comics, fanzines, underground press publications, football magazines etc. I have shown two images. The example on the left (you can also see this, and other examples, at is a comic from the early 20th C. On the right there is an image that I’ve taken from a section on our BL Learning web pages, relating to the underground press and politics (see As the page explains, the British underground press was less obviously politicised than similar movements in the US or Europe. Publications were as much about challenging mainstream culture and behaviour. This excerpt is taken from the first issue of the International Times , in 1966, and describes something that I completely agree with – that other peoples’ news is always more interesting. In trying to encourage reticent Britons to talk to one another, the publication proposes the ‘manufacture and retail of … of badges bearing the words “I AM TOO BRITISH TO START A CONVERSATION – WILL YOU?” to be worn under the lapel and flashed at appropriate moments’ .
  • From the 1980s, the Library has been collecting market research reports, relating to national and international markets. The focus has been on the UK, however the Library has also collected material to support research into: key industrial sectors, emerging markets, and major trading partners (particularly Europe and BRIC countries, but also emerging markets such as Middle East). So, we have a very large international collection. This range of information is much extended by our subscriptions to several Market Information databases. Market research is concerned with what people are currently doing, and so provides a snapshot of behaviour amongst defined groups of people. Reports can cover a range of demographic, cultural and other social factors as well. This can include employment, level of education and size of households, as well as things like newspaper reading, visits to museums or to cinemas. Our intellectual property collections have much earlier roots. From its origins in the mid 19th C, the Patent Library was used by people developing new products, and who wanted to gauge not only the originality of an idea, but also see what the potential market for an idea or product would be, find contacts and so on. So, you will find collections here that relate to trade, the history of companies and the development of manufactured materials, dating back to the mid-19th Century. They cover patents, trade marks and designs. There are also trade journals, sales catalogues, company annual reports, and directories. They are a rich source of information on the development and marketing of products and services, and so give an insight into many areas of social development.
  • The same of course can be said for our collections of British State Papers, foreign official publications, and inter-governmental organisations’ publications. Official publications include the published reports of government departments and agencies, as well as parliamentary debates, papers, bills, acts and statutory instruments. This is one of the largest collections at the BL, and absolutely key if you are studying almost any aspect relating to people and societies. I’ve listed just some of the subjects that are covered: - Social problems - Education - Health - Finance - Trade and Industry (including media and culture) - Transport This is also one area of our collections that is poorly served by our online catalogue. We have however invested a lot of time in producing guides to help you explore our collections, and we also subscribe to several databases. As an example, our Central Office of Information collections contain public information written for variety of audiences (including overseas) from the end of the second world war up to end of 20th C. Education is an important issue throughout the collection. In the early period there are publications on reforms particularly of primary education. From 50s and 60s you find much more around encouraging parents to allow children to remain at school, then development of new universities and FE sector – promoting vocational further education (esp in emerging technologies) to young men and women.
  • To give a sense of the wealth of material that you can find, I’ll describe two papers, both from 19th C. The first is a report on conditions of children employed as apprentices to chimney sweeps (1817) – commenting on young ages (at this point from age 8 was legal, but widespread practice of “employing” children at younger ages); health hazards; mistreatment; lack of education; and lack of prospects for children once too old. Alongside the comments and conclusions of the committee, there is also the witness evidence taken from Master Chimney Sweeps. It’s important to remember that official publications contain this sort of detail, and are not just records of what gets said in parliament or government. The other report is from 1898 and concerns employment of children in elementary education. It contains returns from around half of schools in England and Wales. Around 144,000 children are counted as working, although the report indicates that actual figure is expected to be much higher. The page on display shows numbers by occupation type; other tables show ages and number of hours worked. The report provides a wealth of information on children’s employment, the work of their parents (particularly where this work was seasonal), and the economic role of children within some families. Both of these examples can be found on the online House of Commons Parliamentary Papers resource, which is free to HE institutions. This isn’t a British Library product, but it draws heavily on Library collections. It is a very large database, nearly all full-text, and I would recommend taking some time to get used to using it. As well as the UK, the Library has been collecting foreign government’s publications in detail for a long time, in many cases back to late 18th C. This includes a great variety of material, but we try to collect at least: parliamentary materials, major statistical series, development plans, budgets, primary legislation and legal gazettes. Collection of state department publications has generally been more selective. If you haven’t used Government publications before, this can seem daunting. However, the Library does provide collection guides, and help. If you are interested in West and Northern European government publications, then the best starting point will be our printed guides. These are detailed, give an overview of the history of official publishing, what the different series were called (eg for parliamentary publications), our holdings, shelfmarks etc. For more-recent publications, the guides also point to main government websites.
  • Inter-Governmental Organisations’ publications are also interesting as they can cover very similar breadth of activities as government publications. Often, they have a particular interest in international co-operation, particularly for security and crime. So they become a useful source for evidence and statistics on drugs, arms and people trafficking, money laundering, refugees and other humanitarian concerns. The Library is a depository library for UN and agencies and EU. As with other official publications, a lot of the material includes statements from witnesses, and submissions from campaigns organisations. They can therefore be a very useful resource for finding out what is happening “on the ground” in hard-to-reach places. Again, we have invested a lot in producing detailed guides and subscribing to high-quality databases to help you find the information that you need.
  • The last collection that I want to talk about is of websites. These can often become literally hidden, as web publishing is often unstable and sites can have uncertain and short life-spans. This is particularly true of sites that are set up on a non-commercial basis by interested individuals or groups. Often websites from these sorts of organisations can be a very valuable source of material on lifestyles. The Library is part of a long-term programme selecting and saving websites from the UK domain for public access. The Web Archive is organised by subject and also by themed collections. One themed collection is titled “Digital Lives” and my example comes from this. Choice and Voice was a site set up by a group of people with learning disabilities, living in Bristol. They talked about their experiences and interests. The site was well-regarded, and is still linked to from a number of other websites on advocacy for people with disabilities. The Web Archive copy of the site is at: Compare this with what is now available from the original URL: This is a commercial holding page with little or no connection to the original website.
  • British Library Resources For Researchers by Jude England

    1. 1. The British Library Resources for researchers Jude England Social Science Collections and Research 28 th July 2009
    2. 2. ‘ The World’s Knowledge’ <ul><li>150 million items 625 km shelves 12 km p.a . </li></ul><ul><li>Newspapers grey lit Patents </li></ul><ul><li>International coverage World wide languages </li></ul><ul><li>Official and IGO Publications Sound </li></ul><ul><li>Oral history IOR Magazines Manuscripts </li></ul><ul><li>Conferences Philatelic </li></ul><ul><li>e-publications Websites BIPC </li></ul><ul><li>Maps Paintings Photographs </li></ul><ul><li>Exhibitions Talks Workshops </li></ul>
    3. 3. Getting started –
    4. 4.
    5. 5. Archival Sound Recordings - examples <ul><li>From Millennium Memory bank : C900/02595 – Schoolchildren talk about earning and spending money </li></ul><ul><li>From Jewish survivors of the Holocaust : C0410/061 – remembering secondary school in Glasgow, pocket money and sources of income </li></ul>
    6. 6. British Library Newspapers <ul><li>19 th C digitised Newspapers </li></ul><ul><li>Free to HE and FE </li></ul><ul><li>50 titles, 10 million articles </li></ul><ul><li>Focus on regional </li></ul><ul><li>Changing language and context </li></ul><ul><li>Just the tip of the iceberg </li></ul><ul><li>Manchester Times and Gazette , Sep 12 1835 </li></ul>
    7. 7. 19 th C Newspapers – Advertising search
    8. 8. Comics, fanzines, underground press …
    9. 9. Market research, trademarks, patents
    10. 10. Official Publications <ul><li>Social conditions </li></ul><ul><li>Education </li></ul><ul><li>Health </li></ul><ul><li>Finance </li></ul><ul><li>Trade and industry </li></ul><ul><li>Media and culture </li></ul><ul><li>Transport </li></ul>
    11. 11. Parliamentary papers
    12. 12. Inter-Governmental Organisations <ul><li>The organisations’ internal affairs (minutes of committees, conferences, resolutions etc ) </li></ul><ul><li>Diplomatic affairs (peacekeeping, mandates, mediation etc) </li></ul><ul><li>Social issues (health, women and children, drug trafficking, refugees, human rights) </li></ul><ul><li>Economic issues (unemployment, labour conditions, transport, trade) </li></ul><ul><li>Statistics </li></ul><ul><li>Evidence from expert groups and witnesses </li></ul>
    13. 13. Web Archiving – a saved site in the archive
    14. 14. Web archiving – as the URL appears today
    15. 15. Guides and support <ul><li>Reference services: reading room, telephone, email </li></ul><ul><li>Help for Researchers web pages </li></ul><ul><li>Collection guides, eg for government publications: </li></ul><ul><li>Topical bibliographies, eg Globalisation and employment, Gang culture and knife crime … </li></ul><ul><li>Welfare Reform on the Web </li></ul>
    16. 16. Conclusion and Contact Jude England (0)20 7412 7670 Alt extn: 7487 Email: [email_address] Head-Social Science Collections & Research The British Library 96 Euston Road London NW1 2DB Available at © British Library Website <ul><li>Annual Report and Accounts 2008/09 </li></ul>