WEB ACCESS TO BRITISH LIBRARY DATABASES: WORKAROUNDS for historians

by | Nov 29, 2023 | General | 0 comments

 

On 28 October 2023, the British Library was subject to a major cyberattack, entailing a near complete shutdown of the Library’s web-based services. Staff at the British Library are continuing to work extremely hard to restore services that are vital for teaching as well as research, on site and remotely.

As this continues, a number of organisations are offering guidance on short-term alternatives and workarounds while BL databases remain unavailable.

This post provides a summary of these alternatives and a selection of guides now available, with a particular focus on those working historically. Below we also invite further proposals for alternative resources for historians which we will add to this post in the coming weeks. Our thanks to Dr Adam Budd, the Society’s Secretary for Education, for compiling this listing.

 

 

On 28 October 2023, the British Library (BL) was subjected to a very serious cyber attack (now confirmed as a ransomware attack). We recognise the considerable pressure this has placed on our colleagues who work in the BL and their dedication to restore their services.

This attack has entailed a near-complete shutdown of its web-based services, including the BL’s online catalogue, the ESTC (English Short-Title Catalogue), and its various web-based exhibitions and media. The effects on researchers at the BL remain considerable, and those of us who rely on its bibliographical indexes and related materials must find alternate means of access. The BL has announced that some on-site services may be restored over the weeks ahead ‘but some disruption may persist for longer.’

For updates, particularly for BL users with a login, consult the British Library blog and their X (Twitter) feed @britishlibrary.

In the meantime, the Bodleian Library, Oxford, has provided a helpful guide to alternate sources of bibliographical information, as has the Cambridge University Library, drawing upon Library Hub Discover (a union catalogue of 204 UK and Irish research libraries), Oxford’s SOLO, and other open-access resources. Users also can access WorldCat, a much larger and international union catalogue. A copy of records for European books printed ,1450-1830, from the BL’s General Catalogue, was added to the Heritage of the Printed Book Database (hosted by the Consortium of European Research Libraries) in the first week of November 2023. Despite these alternatives, various databases remain inaccessible, including the UKWebArchive (updates) and the BL Sound Archive (updates).

There is no alternative to the ESTC, but it is possible to extract ESTC-based bibliographical citations from resources including SOLO and JISC Historical Texts: its British Library 19th-century collections can be accessed for free, but its databases for earlier periods require a subscription. The USTC provides open access to citations to imprints from within and beyond the UK to 1650; a temporary version of pre-1700 British imprints from an archived version of ESTC is available here. Descriptions of items held in BL Special Collections can be found through The National Archives and The Archives Hub.


We also welcome suggestions of further alternative resources. If you’d like to propose a resource of particular value to historians for teaching and research please contact us here.


 

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