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British Library giving away historic newspapers

January 30, 1997

LONDON (AP) _ The British Library is offering up tens of thousands of foreign newspapers dating back to coverage of the Crimean War, thrilling historians elsewhere in Europe.

After making sure it has microfilm copies of the newspapers, the library is cleaning house _ literally. Newspapers, especially when printed on the cheapest wood-pulp paper, are difficult to keep in good condition even when they are bound.

``They first start to go at the edges and at the end of a day the floors around the readers’ desks tend to look as if confetti had been dropped,″ said Stephen Lester, collections officer at the library’s newspaper collection in north London.

The newspapers are all printed in European languages after 1850, a decade whose big news included the Crimean War and the famed charge of the Light Brigade. They are first being offered free to the national libraries in the countries of publication, although takers will have to pay the shipping costs.

Among the first to benefit when microfilming started was the Prussian State Library in Berlin, which sent two large trucks to collect German newspapers. German libraries and newspaper companies lost many files in World War II.

Belgium’s National Library was also eager. ``They wanted to collect right away,″ Lester said.

Any papers not claimed by libraries will be offered to dealers, and any left after that will be pulped.

Old newspapers have become big business in recent years, with dealers charging up to $40 for a copy issued on the buyer’s birth date.

The Newspaper Library holds more than 100,000 newspaper titles in Western languages going back to the 17th century. Oriental titles are kept separately by the parent British Library.

All pre-1850 newspapers in the library are being retained whether or not they are on microfilm.

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