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Overview

Summary

Brightsolid provides online technology services to corporations and publishes a wide array of digital content in the areas of family history and public records. A new venture announced in 2010 will have a significant impact on the accessibility of British historical newspapers, as the firm partners with the British Library and The Newspaper Society (publishing association) to provide online access to 40 million pages of British newspaper content.

Sources

The majority of the information in this report is based on a press release from May 2010: “British Library and brightsolid partnership to digitize up to 40 million pages of historic newspapers,” RealWire Social Media News Release, May 19, 2010, http://blogit.realwire.com/?ReleaseID=18717; accessed April 20, 2011.  

Authors

Center for Research Libraries

  • Virginia Kerr - Digital Program Manager

Analysis

Mission and History

Founded in 1995 as Scotland Online, brightsolid acquired findmypast.co.uk, an online family history site in 2007. In 2010, brightsolid acquired friendsreunited.co.uk, a social network for locating school friends, which was started in 2000. An affiliated family history site, genesreunited.co.uk, began in 2003.   

The parent company of Brightsolid is D.C. Thomson, a publishing house. Brightsolid is based in Dundee, Scotland, with offices in Edinburgh and London.     

Brightsolid has two divisions: online technology and online publishing. In the technology area they provide IT business services to large public and private sector institutions, including hosting, Internet access, business applications and continuity products and services. The publishing ventures include partnerships to digitize public records, notably those hosted on ScotlandsPeople.gov.uk (a collaboration between Scotland’s General Register Office, the National Archives of Scotland and the Court of the Lord Lyon), as well as a British census project for The National Archives (TNA), 1911census.co.uk. The remainder of the publishing business currently comes from data aggregated and hosted on the genealogy and social sites.

For a new project to digitize British historical newspapers brightsolid is contracting production with Digital Divide Data (DDD), with operations in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Funding and Planning

In March, 2009, brightsolid reported a profit of more than £2 million on income of £13 million. [1]

Stakeholders and Designated Community

Brightsolid’s stakeholders, in addition to their clients for corporate IT services, include government and library partners for digitization: The National Archives of Scotland (NAS), Britain’s National Archives (TNA), the General Register Office of Scotland, and the British Library. Newspaper publishers and The Newspaper Society (the British news publishing association) will become stakeholders through the new ten-year newspaper digitization partnership between Brightsolid and the British Library. This will involve copyright agreements and licenses with various publishers. Communities served include the social media participants on various family history and school friend networking sites, users of digitized public records, and in the future will include scholars consulting historical British newspapers.

Content and Services

In addition to IT services for businesses, brightsolid is a digital publisher specializing in public records and genealogy:

Ancestorsonboard.com
In partnership with The National Archives, this site includes ship passenger lists for transatlantic voyages, including the Titanic.

Census sites for 1901 and 1911
British census digitization projects undertaken with The National Archives (TNA).

discovermypast.co.uk/England
A monthly online publication with guides to using genealogical resources. A related monthly publication is Discovermypastscotland (http://www.discovermypast.co.uk/scotland)

Findmypast.co.uk
This family history site was the first in Britain to make available complete birth, marriage, and death indexes for England and Wales.

Friendsreunited.co.uk
Launched originally in 2000, this social network currently with over 20 million members, has become very popular in Britain for reconnecting old friends from school.

ScotlandsPeople.gov.uk
This collaboration between Scotland’s General Register Office, the National Archives of Scotland and the Court of the Lord Lyon provides digital access to public records.

genesreunited
Began in 2003, this family history site currently has over 9 million members. Along with friendsreunited, the two sites attract over 3 million users per month.

British historical newspapers
An important new project to digitize mass amounts of British newspapers in collaboration with the British Library was announced in May 2010.

  • Up to 40 million pages of historical newspapers will be digitized over ten years, with 4 million pages promised during the first two years.
  • The contract with the British Library is nonexclusive; the BRITISH LIBRARY will obtain copies of all the scans and after the contract expires in ten years will have the right to make the out of copyright content accessible openly.
  • Brightsolid will select the content from the local, regional, and national titles held at the BRITISH LIBRARY, focusing on particular geographic areas, periods such as the census years between 1841 and 1911, and events such as the Crimean and Boer wars; any material published before 1900 will be considered out of copyright; they may also seek permissions to include later materials as available. Content to be scanned will include NEWSPLAN2000 microfilm produced through the British Library.
  • In addition to subscription sales to a newspaper database, brightsolid will likely integrate content into its group of family history webrightsolidites. The newspaper database will be freely accessible to readers in the British Library reading rooms.
  • The BRITISH LIBRARY will receive royalties from distribution of the out of copyright content; royalties for in-copyright content will go to the news publishers and brightsolid.

The newspaper digitization effort is part of a long-term plan by the British Library for preservation and access to the national newspaper collection. Hard-copy collections will be moved from the current building in Colindale to a new storage facility in Boston Spa, West Yorkshire. Access in the main library reading room will be by microfilm or digital copies.

Conclusions

The British historical newspapers digitization project in partnership with the British Library will have a very significant impact on the availability of newspaper content for research and study. It will provide more flexible access to selected content, but raises a number of questions to be answered as the ten year project moves forward:

  • Will the British Library have the means to support open access for the public after the conclusion of the ten-year contract?
  • What British newspapers will be preserved on microfilm in the future?
  • What plans do brightsolid or the British Library have for ensuring sustainable access and preservation of the digital files?

Endnotes

[1] Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter January 18, 2010 http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2010/01/brightsolid-reports-healthy-profits.html

[2] Nick Townend, “Implementation of highly scaleable solutions for the processing of digital content – The Newspaper Programme,” from The Newspaper Archive Summit: Rescuing Orphaned and Digital Content, co-sponsored by the Library of Congress and University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri, April 11, 2011 http://www.rjionline.org/events/stories/newpaper-archive/files/Townsend%...

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