Frequently Asked Questions

Content and General Questions

Q: What is 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers?
A: 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers is a joint effort between the British Library and Gale to make available digitised versions of content of the Rev. Charles Burney Collection held at the British Library. By taking the titles from the Burney collection of newspapers, news-books, pamphlets, ephemera, and other early forms newspapers, and turning it into a high-resolution digital format with searchable images, this database offers online access to a key set of primary sources for the study of the period.

For over 1,200 titles included, every front page, editorial, birth and death notice, advertisement and classified ad that appeared within their pages for the time period available will be easily accessible from what is a virtual chronicle of history for this period. Users of the database will be able to search every word on every page.

A quick summary of the process used to create the product:

Q: What is Gale?
A: Gale, a part of Cengage Learning, is the largest publisher of reference, journal and primary source databases for the library and academic community. Other Gale Digital Collections include the Eighteenth Century Collection Online, The Times Digital Archive and The Making of the Modern World—in total nearly 100 million pages of archival primary source documents, newspapers, books and manuscripts are available through Gale's collections.

Q: Have newspapers from other time periods been digitised?
A: The British Library has digitised selected 19th century titles. This selection of 48 national and regional titles is available for purchase from Gale by libraries world-wide as a database, British Library Newspapers.

Q: Are complete runs of newspapers digitised?
A: Yes, as far as this is possible, within the constraints of the time period.

Q: How long will I have access to this database?
A: This database is licensed to institutional libraries around the world. As long as you have access rights to a licensed institution—typically a university or college library—you will be able to use the database.

Q: There are many more newspaper texts that could be digitised. Will more be done?
A: The British Library is actively planning to expand its newspaper and serials digitisation program to other historic, out of copyright, newspapers. Already available are British Library Newspapers and 19th Century U.K. Periodicals: New Readerships: ask your librarian for details or visit

Q: What are Variant Titles?
A: During their lifespan publications may change their name several times, reflecting everything from ownership changes and mergers to fashions of the day. The Variant Titles list in the About this Publication screen help you keep track of these changes and link back to a master publication title.

Technical/Searching Information

Q: How were the newspapers digitised?
A: The chosen method was to scan the newspaper texts from microfilm either newly-created for the project or pre-existing in which the British Library holds the photographic rights.

Q: Can you print from the database?
A: Printing entire newspaper pages on office size paper presents difficulties based largely on the difference in paper size between the original newsprint and today's office printers. Your best alternative is to print at the article level—at the appropriate magnification. It is possible to print entire pages, and the software will tile them across multiple pages based on specifications you set.

Q: What is the level of digital data capture?
A: The project has captured data for each page at 300dpi. Because most of the images were sourced from bi-tonal microfilm, there is very limited grey scale within this collection.

Q: Will metadata be attached to scanned pages of text?
A: Yes, and it is searchable as well.

Q: How are the pages of text indexed?
A: Newspapers are indexed by title, by date, issue and location. A set of rules has been devised for the segmentation of pages and the creation of articles. The articles are then categorized into newspaper 'sections' for more detailed searching. These sections help both at the search level, where a section may be specified to limit your results, and in the search results list, where articles are divided by section.

Q. What kind of searches can be performed?
A: Basic Searches can be performed from the entry page of the database. Use Advanced Search to refine your search using keyword, date range or various metadata fields, either across the entire database of 48 titles or limited to selection publications. The Help section provides more detailed information about searching.

Q: Can the user print the article or full-page images?
A: Yes, the user can print either the full-page or article. For full-page printing, the system will use PDF files and Adobe Acrobat.

Q: What is 'fuzzy logic' and how does it affect my search results?
A: Fuzzy logic (or fuzzy searching) is a technology that allows the search process to find 'near misses' to the term being searched. This is a particularly valuable feature within a database such as 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers in that it allows a user to locate a word or words within documents despite imperfect matches in spelling between the searched term and document content. This is a common occurrence in nineteenth-century documents due to spelling variants or OCR errors resulting from poor quality of original typeset text sources.

Three levels of fuzzy searching are offered so that the user may fine-tune a search—depending on how closely he/she wants to match term(s): Low, Medium, and High. The Low setting will expand the full-text search results to include very near matches on the chosen term(s). The High setting will expand the results to include very broad matches on the chosen term(s).

Note that while a fuzzy search will find additional matches for the word/term being searched, it will also return numerous false returns, so it should be used in moderation.

Q: Sometimes the search result shows the wrong word: why?
A: Many times this has happened due to an error in the Optical Character Recognition process, where one word was read as another. For example, if there was a poor original image, broken type or fading ink, a word such as "king" can be misread as 'kind". Fuzzy search will also increase the range of acceptable words for any given search: to minimise problems set your fuzzy search to "Low".

Q: Why do search results appear at times with no search term highlighted?
A: There can be several causes for this. First check to see if you executed a "Keyword Search': this type of search includes the metadata for the article as well as the printed content. Secondly make sure that you have checked all pages in the article.

Q: There are often more articles on a page than the number of articles highlights in 'Page View". Similarly, often times when one looks at an article, it contains multiple, unrelated articles. Why?
A: One of the most difficult aspects of newspaper digitization is the indexing and categorising of articles. With historic newspapers that frequently merged news briefs and classified advertising together, often the most effective way to categorize is to cluster some miscellaneous material together.

Q: Can I use wildcards in my searches? May it be done in conjunction with fuzzy searching?
A: Yes, the standard Gale wildcards can be used in 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers. These include the following:

A word can NOT have both a wildcard and fuzzy search level applied to it. If both are specified, the wildcard will take precedence.

Q: What's in the Topic Guide?
A: In order to help non specialist scholars and student, we have included a range of contextual materials from essays about the collection, on how newspapers and the press impacted key issues of the century (and vice versa) and biographies of key editors and journalists. This material was specially commissioned by Gale and the British Library for this project. This material will be supplemented to over time. For additional contextual information, please refer to the Headnotes section in About this Publication, available after any search result.

Q: What is the Multiple Page icon for?
A: Some articles appear over multiple pages. This is to alert you that your search term result may not appear on the first page of the article you see, and to click forward in the article to see the entire contents.

Q: Can I see the raw text of the article in HTML, as captured by the Optical Character Recognition system?
A: Gale does not currently make this text available—the text files are used solely for searching the product and the user is only able to view the digital image of the page.

Q: I can not find a specific person (or place of event) that I am certain is in the database. What am I doing wrong?
A: Try spelling variations for the words that you are searching. For people, realize that they may not have been referred to with the title that we commonly associate with them today, so try different variations on the name.

Q: How do I save an article that I have found for future reference?
A: You may bookmark an article (or a page of search results) by using the Bookmark icon in the top menu bar. In addition, while viewing an article or page, you may email yourself or others the citation information for the article(s). As you use the Mark feature, you may also email yourself the list of Marked Items for future reference.