The word on the street

1,800 broadsides published on new website

For almost three centuries broadsides filled the place occupied today by the tabloid press. This 'street literature' can now be accessed online as a new website, 'The word on the street', is launched by the National Library of Scotland today, 5 June. It is a major new addition to the Library's web resources and goes live to coincide with the opening of the 'READ ALL ABOUT IT!' summer exhibition.

'The word on the street' brings to light in the digital age the news and ballads that enthralled ordinary folk in Scotland from the 17th to 20th century. The website is made up of 1,800 broadsides — single news-sheets — which were published over a three hundred year period. It is the first time these broadsides have been available to the public in digital form and have been drawn together from across the Library's vast collections.

Eoin Shalloo, curator, Rare Books Collections, says: 'The site lets you see for yourself what "the word on the street" was between the1600s and 1900s. For almost 300 years broadsides filled the place that is occupied today by the tabloid press. It's a wonderful resource and everyone from school children and academics to journalists and local history buffs will find something of interest. This virtual library is text-searchable, put in any word, place name or event and see what comes up or just have a browse through the subject categories — that's what makes this website unique.'

Each of the 1,800 broadsides is text-searchable. There is also a facility to search by subject categories such as place names, accidents, ballads, body snatching, Jacobites, murder, riots, sport and treason. Each broadside comes with a detailed commentary and transcription of the text, plus a downloadable PDF facsimile.

Broadsides were sold in the thousands on the street by hawkers and peddlers — street performers in their own right — and cost a halfpenny or a penny. At first they were used for the printing of royal proclamations and official notices, but later served as a vehicle for political agitation and what is now known as 'popular culture' such as ballads, songs and scaffold speeches.

'The word on the street' website can be viewed at 'READ ALL ABOUT IT!' opens on Saturday 5 June and runs until Sunday 31 October 2004. Opening hours are: Monday-Friday 10.00-17.00 (Festival 10.00-20.00); Saturday 10.00-17.00; Sunday 14.00-17.00.

4 June 2004

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