The British Library and its commercial partner brightsolid - a division of DC Thomson - are to digitise 40 million pages of old newspapers.
The library holds 52,000 national and international titles covering 300 years. Currently researchers, 30,000 a year, have to go to Colindale in north London to scan through microfilm or hard copies.
Under this agreement brightsolid will scan a minimum of four million pages within the next two years. Over ten years, as scanning technology improves, some 40 million pages will be scanned. This will include in-copyright material following negotiations with rights holders.
Once scanned the papers will be moved to a purpose-built storage facility in Boston Spa, West Yorkshire.
The digitised versions will be available for free to users at the British Library or online via a paid-for website. brightsolid will also use the content on its genealogy sites.
The company takes on the commercial and technical costs of the programme, although the Department of Culture, Media and Sport did hand over £33m for the newspaper storage facility.
The material will be organised along geographic lines as well as periods such as the census years between 1841 and 1911.
DC Thomson owns FriendsReunited and various family history sites as well as the Beano. ®