History of the Collection

The Times Digital Archive was the first online digitised newspaper collection of British newspapers. Produced by Gale (then Thomson Gale Publishers), the collection debuted in 2002 with an initial remit to make available the entirety of The Times, including its previous incarnations, from 1785–1985, after which date digital text files were already available. This early adoption of digitisation, and its building upon the popularity of the Palmer’s index of The Times, ensured its prominence in historical and journalistic research, including its use by the House of Lords in researching past legal debates. As of 2019, it was the most searched digitised newspaper database among Cengage’s news media collections. The archive is refreshed annually, adding new issues in one-year sets on a rolling basis.

Consulted Libraries

As The Times Digital Archive is a single newspaper archive of a continuing title, the entire database is derived from The Times’s own archive, which included a complete backfile on microfilm.

Microfilming Projects

Up through 1985, The Times backfile is preserved on 35mm microfilm. After that date, issues have been archived using both microfilm and born-digital files. The majority of the backfile microfilming was undertaken in the 1990s, though some reels were processed by Gale’s predecessors as early as 1974. The microfilm archives preserve the final London edition of each issue and excluded regional editions, such as the Irish or Scottish editions or editions which came out earlier in the day. The Times was microfilmed from a variety of sources, including bound volumes, and conditions, including defects such folding, tearing, the use of adhesive tape and bad trimming.

Digitisation Projects

Digitisation of The Times began in 2002 through the scanning of existing microfilm. Because the initial 1785-1985 material was digitised over just two years, there was a consistency of staff, equipment, method and product, both in terms of image and OCR quality. The reels were scanned using the Mekel M500 greyscale scanner and converted into 300 PPI bitonal TIFFs at a rate of six frames a minute, allowing the digitisation of between two and five reels a day, depending on the quality of the source material and the degree of intervention required by the operator. After filming, the images were subdivided by month and then cropped and de-skewed in preparation for OCR processing. Digital restoration was undertaken to reduce the appearance or impact of damaged pages, including manually cropping and cleaning and the insertion of digital titles or page number where needed. Zoning of articles was done partially through automated processes, leading to the amalgamation of smaller individual units such as classified advertisements, and partially by manual clipping, as was the case for birth, death and marriage notices in order to aid family historians and professional genealogists using the service.


The aim of the initial project was to digitise the microfilm collection, in its entirety, from 1785 until 1985. The content was released in several batches: the first was 1936–1946, growing monthly to include 1880–1985 by the end of 2002. The entire microfilm run was completed by the close of 2003. Since its acquisition by Cengage in 2007, Gale has continued to expand the collection, which currently offers the complete run of the publication from 1785 to 2013.

Preservation and Access

While the full historical archive of The Times has now been digitised, and new issues meet legal deposit legislation digitally, Gale continues to microfilm The Times on a monthly basis as a commercial product and as a preservation archive for The Times itself. Access is via purchase or subscription only.

Composition of the Collection

Selection Available

The Times Digital Archive currently contains material from 1785–2013. This includes over 1.6 million pages from 70,000 issues, sub-divided or zoned into 11.8 million articles. These are catalogued by category, including advertising, editorial and commentary, news, business, news, people and photojournalism. Although the modern Times began publication in 1788, the collection includes digital issues of its precursors, The Daily Universal Register (1785–1787) and The Times, or, Daily Universal Register (1788). The collection continues to expand with additional content added on an annual basis.

Data Quality


As OCR software provides only a digital confidence rating, which cannot be meaningfully translated into a quality metric, and independent quality studies have not yet been undertaken, the overall OCR quality of Times Digital Archive is currently unknown.

The machine-readable text appears within a single XML file per issue, surrounded by layered metadata that describes the features of the issue, pages and articles. Issues between 1785–1985 were created during a single project, undertaken by the same staff, using the same equipment and processes, and working with microfilm that had been filmed over a short period. Therefore, the data for these years has a relatively consistent level of metadata and OCR quality, depending on the age or preservation status of the source material at time of microfilm creation. All issue-level metadata is hand keyed, alongside the article title, article subheadings, attribution information and illustration captions. Subsequent additions have been included on a rolling basis and their data is contained in a separate but similar substructure within the collection, using the same metadata schema, capture requirements and level of detail but with new metadata fields to provide additional image metadata including the height, width, file format and colour map.


Images in the collection before 2007 were captured as 300 PPI bitonal TIFF files; since then, they have been captured at 400 PPI. These are not compressed or reformatted before display through the web interface.

Metadata Schema

Gale Legacy Text Mining Drives

Before 2016, The Times Digital Archive data contains metadata and text content in a single XML file at issue level. Although similar in coverage to the METS/ALTO schema used by many public institutions, Gale established a bespoke metadata schema to label information consistently across its different newspapers and collections. A DTD file is provided on the text-mining drives and the fields are comparable to those found in Dublin Core, MARC and other standard bibliographical standards, to which they have been successfully mapped when working with external content partners.

Each XML file contains bibliographic information for the entire issue, automatically zoned during the OCR process, with individual pages and articles are represented as child elements. At the article-level, each individual word is encoded with spatial coordinates of its location on the corresponding image, as well as marker elements indicating new pages or columns. Metadata fields including publication name, year, date, issue number, page number, article title, article subheading, attribution and illustration capture were manually entered or verified by those processing the data.

Gale Current Text Mining Drives

After 2018, the Gale Text Mining Drive separated metadata and text content into three XML files: title or publication-level metadata, issue-level metadata, and issue-level content data. As with the previous schema, the data is encoded using Gale’s standardised metadata schema and a DTD file is provided on the text-mining drives. Although distinct from the METS/ALTO schema, this system is similar to a combination of library MARC records and METS/ALTO XMLs.

Backend Structure

The definitive dataset is kept in a proprietary XML format, known as the Gale Interchange Format or GIFT, and from this its text-mining and online datasets are derived. In addition to the metadata provided on text-mining drives or online, this database stores image metadata on resolution, file format, bit depth, colour map, file size and image dimensions. Our image database stores image metadata, including image resolution, file format, bit depth, colour map, file size, width and height.

User Interface Structure

Web Interface

The Times Digital Archive can be searched using the Gale Primary Sources interface. The basic search can be filtered to a specific metadata field or the full text, a date range, a specific title or a specific digitised collection. The advanced search allows for standard Boolean operators and fuzzy searching as well as filtering by publication date, publication section, document type and whether an image is included. Results can be sorted by publication date, article title, publication title or relevance and page number. On the search results page, users are presented with additional filters and simple analysis tools, such as term clusters and frequency. Individual results can be viewed at article, page, or issue level. At article level, the searched terms are highlighted, and users can navigate the issue by moving to other pages or articles within it or refining their search terms. Then users can also adjust the image contrast and brightness to improve legibility and download it using standard browser context menus. The image may also be downloaded as a PDF as can the plain text of the OCR content. Bibliographic information and a suggested citation are provided at the bottom of the page.

Direct Download or Drives

Gale Cengage offers to make available content from its collections to academic researchers for data mining and textual analysis through physical hard drives containing source data for a nominal cost recovery charge. This includes directories, title manifests, XML files and image files, containing metadata, article segmentation, and page facsimiles.

Rights and Usage

Web Interface

The Times Digital Archive is accessible by institutional subscription or purchase and is currently held by many public or national libraries worldwide; there is currently no individual subscription model available.


API access is not currently available. However, users can create batches of specific issues or titles for bulk download through the Gale Digital Scholar Lab, a separate subscription service.

Direct Download or Drives

Gale Cengage makes content from its collections available to academic researchers for data mining and analysis through physical hard drives for a nominal cost recovery charge. This includes directories, title manifests, XMLs and image files. This data is only accessible to those with institutional subscriptions or purchases of the relevant Gale products. Material obtained on text mining drives may be used to examine individual text for large-scale analysis for purposes of performing personal or non-commercial research but cannot be duplicated or shared without express permission.


As part of the user agreement, XML, OCR and image data cannot be re-published in any form, physical or digital, without the express permission and licensing of News UK. Small quotations, using standard citation practices, may be reproduced in accordance with local fair use provisions and should be accompanied by a DOI link that points back to the individual full text article or book chapter and a proprietary notice in the following form: “Some rights reserved. This work permits non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.”

Suggested Citation

Beals, M. H. and Emily Bell, with contributions by Ryan Cordell, Paul Fyfe, Isabel Galina Russell, Tessa Hauswedell, Clemens Neudecker, Julianne Nyhan, Sebastian Padó, Miriam Peña Pimentel, Mila Oiva, Lara Rose, Hannu Salmi, Melissa Terras, and Lorella Viola. “The Times Digital Archive.” The Atlas of Digitised Newspapers and Metadata: Reports from Oceanic Exchanges. Loughborough: 2020. DOI: 10.6084/m9.figshare.11560059.