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British Library sees vast new field – archiving websites

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Buckingham House from St James' Park. (BL 199.i.4)
One of the email Christmas cards that the British Library will help you to send online.

The British Library receives a copy of every book published in Britain or Ireland. It also holds every British and Irish newspaper published since 1840. Its collection includes the Lindisfarne Gospels, two Gutenberg Bibles, two 1215 copies of Magna Carta, the only surviving copy of Beowulf, and 93 of the earliest copies of Shakespeare’s plays, among other treasures. It is arguably the largest library in the world, holding 150 million items as opposed to the Library of Congress, which has 130 million. (These figures, obtained from Wikipedia, are probably changing daily.) If you go online to the Library's gallery , you can "turn the pages” of one of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks or listen to 75 excerpts from Mozart’s musical diary.

The Library was recently in the news because it is trying to preserve copies of all British and Irish sound and film productions, and is planning to digitize its collection of books. Reports suggest it may have to wrestle with copyright questions. Apparently fearless about tackling vast tasks, by 2002 the Library had recognised that history was being recorded online rather than on paper, and began archiving websites.

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