Queen Victoria’s Journals: Free Today, Subscription Tomorrow

On May 24th the Royal Archives released a website with all 69 years of Queen Victoria’s diaries.  The website, http://www.queenvictoriasjournals.org, features images of every page, transcriptions for the first few years (so far), and a selection of supporting essays.  It’s a major project, with publicity from major newspapers not just in Britain, but also Canada, and the US. I’m looking forward to using the keyword search once the transcriptions reach my area of research in the 1850s and 60s, but I’m sure some people all already finding it useful.

Which brings me to the little details that none of the newspaper stories wanted to highlight.  “queenvictoriasjournals.org” isn’t just a Royal Archives project, although they are the holders of the original diaries, or just a collaboration with the Bodleian Library at Oxford, who holds the digital images and the accompany essays.  It’s a collaboration with ProQuest LLC, a subsidiary of the privately-held Cambridge Information Group.  ProQuest, which CIG bought for  $222 million in 2007, is one of the world’s biggest providers of digital data, including dissertations from most of North America’s universities and numerous microfilms and digital databases of historical documents.   That means that the fine print behind the statement like “the online collection is available free worldwide until June 30” is that soon everyone not in the United Kingdom will be paying ProQuest for access.  Oh, and don’t think of trying to download the diaries before they disappear.  The terms and conditions are quite clear that downloading “in a systematic or regular manner” is “strictly prohibited.”

What’s happened here is actually quite clear.  To avoid the costs of digitizing the diaries, the Royal Archives have mortgaged them to ProQuest – hopefully for a limited time, rather than forever.  It’s not the first time it’s happened, and they cut a good deal for everyone in the UK, but nonetheless it’s sad.  With more than £100 million in planned public and private spending on the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, it’s unfortunate that nothing could be found to make Queen Victoria’s diaries an international treasure rather than a corporate product.

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