As part of my research for my alternate history thriller I’ve been visiting the British Newspaper Library. This is a great place for authors and researchers who want to look at back issues of newspapers, magazines and periodicals going back to the 19th century. Some material even goes back to 1603.
Any adult resident in Britain can use the library for free; you just need to register first. The library is based in Colindale North London, but in November 2013 is due to move to the new British Library building in St Pancras, Central London.
The newspaper library has material in hard copy, microfilm and digitised media. There are copies of The Times going back to 1875. These are on microfilm and can be borrowed self-service from shelves in a reading room which has a number of microfilm reading machines available. For all other items you first determine the shelf number from a computerised index, fill in a card and hand it to a member of staff. They in turn collect the material from the shelves and bring it to you. This can take up to forty five minutes and you’re allowed to borrow up to four items simultaneously.
There are a number of restrictions of what you can bring into the library. Apart from the obvious such as no food and drink, sharp objects and pens are also banned. I found the last a bit of a pain as it meant I could make notes only with a pencil.
The refreshment facilities are rather limited. There is a lounge by the entrance with a coffee and snack machine. There are no cafes in the area so if you plan to spend all day there you need to bring your own food and consume it in the lounge. Of course this should improve when the library moves to St Pancras.