Digitising literature at the British Library

New BL website features digitised treasures of English literature.

To coincide with the release of its new website, Discovering Literature, the British Library surveyed over 500 teachers of English literature.  The findings suggest that classic literature risks being under-appreciated by students unless more is done to inspire them.


  • 82% report that students find it hard to identify with many of the celebrated classic authors of English literature
  • 76% say students find it difficult to think of these authors as ‘real people’
  • 83% believe  students  find  it  hard  to  connect  with older literary texts
  • 83% say that students generally prefer digital  media  to  reading  books

Bringing literature to life through digitisation

Teachers recognise that the teaching of English literature needs to embrace digital technology if it is to engage young people.  Discovering Literature which focuses on the classic works of the Victorians and Romantics, aims to get young people excited about these texts.  The site includes 1200 treasures, documentary films, notes/guides for teachers and expert insights. 

Treasures featured on the site include manuscripts by Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and William Wordsworth.  The inclusion of an 1809 dictionary of criminal slang aims to give context to the content, and even the title, of Oliver Twist (‘twist’ meant ‘hanged’).  The earliest known writings of the Bronte sisters are also included.

The Discovering Literature website will continue to be developed until it covers literature from Beowulf to the moderns.

The research was conducted on behalf of the British Library by ComRes who interviewed 520 secondary school and college English teachers online between 16th April and 2nd May 2014.

Image via Flickr.