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LONDON -- The British Library said Wednesday it was digitizing up to 40 million pages of newspapers, including fragile dailies dating back three and a half centuries.
Once digitized, the British newspapers documenting local, regional and national life spanning to the 1700s will be fully searchable and accessible online, the national library said.
The vast majority of the British Library's 750 million pages of newspapers - the largest collections in the world - are currently available only on microfilm or bound in bulky volumes. Thousands of researchers have to make a trip to an archive building just outside London to look through them.
The library said it would focus on digitizing newspapers documenting historical events in the 19th century, including the Crimean War, the Boer War and the suffragette movement. It also aimed to build material in the fields of family history and genealogy, as well as safeguard the future of the vast archive.
"Newspapers are designed to be read once and thrown away, so they're very fragile," said library spokesman Ben Sanderson. "This will be the largest mass digitization of historic newspapers the U.K. has ever seen."
The cost of the 10-year digitization project wasn't immediately clear, but Sanderson said the process - from cleaning a single page to making a file of it - costs up to one pound ($1.40).
The library's chief executive, Lynne Brindley, said the project will help bring vital parts of history into the digital age.
"It will help the newspaper collection to remain relevant for a new generation of researchers, more used to accessing research information via their laptop than traveling to a physical location," Brindley said.