THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Innovation and enterprise blog

08 June 2018

Exploring the archives… and finding commercial treasures

Because I spent many years in business focused on developing new products I’m always looking for inspiration. New products, creative ideas and services rarely appear out of nowhere, instead we come up with them because we see something that gets us thinking in a different way. Equally, some research back in time often bring s out ideas which you can make fresh and exciting.

 

Harry Potter: A History of Magic

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A recent exhibition at the British Library focused on a history of magic, themed around the 20th anniversary of the first Harry Potter book by JK Rowling. The artefacts they uncovered pay tribute to Rowling’s careful research as much as her fertile imagination. There were instructions on how to cultivate Mandrakes or make the Philosopher’s Stone, manuals on how to read tea-leaves or palms detailed enough to be a textbook in Divination and how to get the very best bezoar stones (from a goat). Although she obviously decided against the advice on fending off basilisks (keep a weasel in your pocket), opting instead for the more elegant Godric Gryffindor’s sword.

The archives of the British Library are not just useful when you’ve got a PhD thesis to write. Instead they offer a treasure-trove of materials, ideas, illustrations and texts that any creative entrepreneur would give their eye-teeth to use for inspiration. Think of Rococo Chocolates, whose signature packaging comes from an 18th century catalogue of chocolate mouldings. Theatre company Undercurrent created a sell-out theatre production Calculating Kindness which was inspired by material from the Library's contemporary scientific archives.

Meanwhile fashion designers wanting to focus on the current interest in kimonos might want to explore the Library’s Japanese collection, which contains original kimono patterns from before the twentieth century. I have a book which offers advice to young ‘memsahibs’ heading out to British India, the details in it almost make creating fiction unnecessary.

We think of copyright as providing protection. But at the moment when it expires (in the UK, 70 years after the death of its creator, to give you a very rough idea – you should always check each item individually for any exceptions but there are experts on hand in the Business & IP Centre to do just that), it opens up a whole new world of inspiration and product possibilities which could be a goldmine for businesses.

 

A little exercise for your business

Here is an image from the British Library’s archives. It’s a beautiful illustration of a llama.

Llama

How could you use it as inspiration in your own business? Stop reading right now and write down 5 ideas. Right now. I dare you. Thinking out of the box around unusual items often brings us new ideas, whether directly connected or not, so it’s a useful exercise to do regularly.

Here are a few ideas: Ex libris (stickers proclaiming a book is yours) designs for a stationery business; using old illustrations for a new ABC or storybook; a design for fabrics/upholstery; branding for your llama picnics (there is such a business, I want to go…) and the decor for a Peruvian restaurant or range of ‘superfood’ products from Peru. A t-shirt design; a video game where you get allocated certain animals and have to look after them; a wool or clothing or home furnishing company specialising in llama and alpaca fibres; a travel company specialising in South America… I think you get the picture.

 

Workshop

I’m running a workshop in June where we will be looking at business plans for people in the creative industries. And I think it is just these creative entrepreneurs who could make it part of their strategies to draw on the archives to create new and outstanding ideas, products and services. There are millions of amazing items just waiting for your business to find them and turn them into new bestsellers. Come along and explore: https://www.bl.uk/events/business-plans-for-creatives-june-2018

 

Melissa Addey on behalf of the Business & IP Centre

 

*Melissa Addey spent fifteen years developing new products at Sainsbury’s Head Office and then went on to mentor over 500 entrepreneurs as part of a government grants programme. Now a fulltime author, studying for a PhD in Creative Writing, she has written six books including fiction and non-fiction. www.melissaaddey.com