Digitising the Booker Prize Archive

Hazel King ~

While much of the work of the Scholarly Communications team revolves around making published research Open Access, we also work on other projects, all with the aim of sharing outputs from researchers, students and library collections as widely as possible. This includes our special collections, housed in the archive in Headington library, and we’ve been working towards digitising some of these artefacts to make them accessible to those who are further afield and can’t necessarily make it to Oxford to view the physical materials.

One of the projects I’ve been working on recently has been the digitisation of one of our archive collections: the Booker Prize Archive. This includes correspondence, meeting minutes, photographs and other documents relating to this literary prize stretching back to its conception in 1968. The impetus to begin digitising this collection was the 50th anniversary year of the Man Booker Prize in 2018, and our archivist Eleanor Possart chose fifty items to publish online as part of the celebrations, which were also picked up by the press and used by the Booker Prize Foundation to promote the prize. At the same time, I started working my way through the documents from the first year of the prize and scanning and uploading as many documents as possible. Currently I’m working on the second year of the prize and will continue through the archive.

Our online Booker Prize Archive is hosted on the Oxford Brookes institutional repository, RADAR, alongside other special collections and archive materials. It’s all Open Access (i.e. freely available for anyone to explore and read) and can be viewed in several different ways, including by prize year, or through a search. The metadata I’ve uploaded with each document allows users to search for documents created by a certain person or for specific types of document e.g. correspondence or speeches. The full TreeRef reference number of each document is also available for those who are interested in coming to the library and viewing the original documents.

Another way I’ve tried to make the documents more accessible is to create timelines, which bring together several documents to form a coherent narrative about some aspect of the prize. For example, there’s a timeline that shows the progression of how the Booker Prize got its name, including correspondence suggesting several names and even showing how initially ‘the Booker Prize’ was rejected out of hand. Some of the timelines encompass documents from a longer period of time and will continue to grow as we digitise more of the archive, for example a timeline of some of the many scandals involving the prize.

One of the main issues faced in digitising the documents has been acquiring permission from copyright holders. I have been scanning and uploading all documents, but for many of them the file has to be restricted because although Oxford Brookes owns the physical documents, the copyright is still held by the original creators of the individual documents. This means that unless the copyright holders give permission for their documents to be hosted online, only the metadata can be made available for public viewing but not the document itself. Of course, I have been making the necessary copyright requests, but permission is not always granted, and when contacting large organisations I sometimes haven’t received any response or have been asked to pay a fee, which we’re unable to do as the project doesn’t have a budget.

This is an ongoing project and I’m aiming to digitise as much of the collection as possible to provide access to as many people as possible. Not only is the Booker Prize of interest to scholars, but also to members of the public, publishers and writers, many of whom might not have known about the collection or might not have considered that visiting a university archive was an option available to them. By putting these materials online, we’re able to share some of the collection with an audience who would otherwise be beyond our reach.

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