Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Digital Resource: British Telecom E-Archives

Engineers working on the construction of the new London Central Exchange, 1901 (TCB 417/E 0287)
British Telecom (BT) has just launched a website providing access to a large portion of its archives for the period 1865-1983. The overall BT collection includes records, photographs, and films of BT itself, records of the Post Office telecommunications function, and of the private telephone and telegraph companies taken over by the Post Office in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Digital Archives project, as the developers explain, "aimed to catalogue, digitise and develop a searchable online resource of almost half a million photographs, images, documents and correspondence, a core part of the overall collection assembled by BT over 165 years, including over:
  • 45,000 photographs and pictures, c1865-1982
  • 190,000 pages from over 13,500 research reports, 1878-1981
  • 230,000 documents from over 550 policy and operational files, 1851-1983."
According to the launch announcement, "Anyone can view and search the records available on the website. Registered users will be able to download individual images for private non-commercial use. Academic and professional teaching practitioners can register to download higher quality images, and pdfs of whole reports and files, for private study, research and teaching."
     The BT Digital Archives was developed through the New Connections project, a one million pound collaboration between Coventry University, BT, and the UK National Archives. Coventry University's announcement of the launch provides a list of interesting documents—for example, "a letter from 1877 from Alexander Graham Bell’s agent offering Bell’s telephone to the British government, who turned it down."
    The BT Digital Archives incorporates the public catalogue of the whole BT collection. The wider collection, which occupies over three kilometers of shelving, is available to researchers for study at the BT Archives search room in Holborn, London.

Tip of the hat to The Past Speaks