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Behind the scenes at the British Library


Experts and directors at the British Library blog about strategy, key projects and future plans Read more

24 May 2017

Taking British Library literary treasures to China

Just a few weeks ago I was standing in the main entrance hall to the National Museum of Classical Books at the Chinese National Library in Beijing.

I was excited, proud (and, having coming straight off the plane, very spacey) when introducing our major exhibition, Shakespeare to Sherlock: Treasures of the British Library, to the Chinese media: the first time we had ever displayed British Library collections in China…and what a way to start.

According to his oft-repeated aphorism, Lao Tzu (the 6th century Chinese philosopher and founding father of Taoism) had it that ‘a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’; for the Beijing exhibition, however, we leapt straight in and, together with our brilliant partners at the National Library of China, successfully opened a major blockbuster display showcasing some of the greatest authors, and most significant collections, of over five hundred years of English literature.

DSC_7438-smallerAbove: Jamie Andrews and British Library China Project Manager Kai-Chuan Chapman welcome journalists to the press view of the Shakespeare to Sherlock exhibition. Top: Lead Curator Alexandra Ault (British Library) and Liu Chang (National Library of China) supervise the installation of loan items featured in the exhibition.

The exhibition was the ambitious start of a major project ‘The British Library in China: Connecting through culture and learning’ that (with generous support of the UK Government) will see us undertake a programme of exhibition touring, learning activity, and Knowledge Exchange programmes over the next three years, working with partners across Mainland China and Hong Kong.

DSC_3390-smallerThe exhibition features original works by ten literary and cultural icons drawn from the British Library's collections, alongside a host of translations, adaptations, critical responses and rare editions from the National Library of China's collections.

Shakespeare to Sherlock…, which runs until 21 June, showcases ten exceptional figures from British culture-poets, playwrights, composers…even fictional characters-and pairs them with collections from the Chinese National Library to tell a story about translation, distribution, and reception by readers and audiences in China. You’ll see George III’s own copy of an early 1599 edition of Romeo and Juliet, handwritten early manuscripts of Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens, and a Sherlock Holmes story by Arthur Conan Doyle; and you’ll explore how these iconic texts made their way onto Chinese bookshelves and stages through the work of equally exceptional and imaginative translators and adapters.

Chinese Minister of Culture Luo Shugang touring the exhibition in Beijing with British Library Chairman Baroness Tessa Blackstone.

Alongside our display of physical artefacts, we also launched the British Library’s first ever Chinese language learning website, featuring all of the collections we’ll tour to China over the next few years (and much more), contextualised and enriched by expert articles from writers in both China and the UK. This content is already being shared with audiences across China through WeChat and Weibo (Chinese social media), and we will continue to add to the resource over the next few months.

We’re not only sharing collections, but also want to share knowledge and experience with our Chinese partners, and it’s this behind-the-scenes collaboration that is perhaps the most valuable and exciting longer term. We’re sending Library colleagues to work with libraries, galleries, and museums across China, and we’re looking forward to welcoming colleagues from China to the British Library. If our Chinese language lessons, which we’re rolling out to staff across the British Library, go well, our visiting Chinese partners will hopefully be pleasantly surprised by our developing linguistic capabilities; and we want to do much more to make the British Library an attractive and welcoming space for all visitors from China-whether holidaying, or living in London. 

DSC_9216-smallerThe opening ceremony of the exhibition at the National Library of China. Shakespeare to Sherlock: Treasures of the British Library runs until 21 June 2017.

Beijing is just the start (next stop: Wuzhen, and then Shanghai); but already we’ve learned so much from working with Chinese partners and friends in so many different areas, and started to make connections that we hope will endure with so many people online and in the exhibition gallery.

Jamie Andrews

Head of Culture and Learning


19 May 2017

Celebrating Bengali New Year at the British Library


Saturday 29 April saw the British Library host a celebration of Bengali New Year in the Knowledge Centre with 200 people from the local community.

The Library teamed up with Age UK Camden to put on the event which included presentations, talks with curators, a pop-up exhibition celebrating Bangla films of the 1940s, traditional Bengali food, live music and dance.


Camden Councillor Samata Khatoon (pictured, above) kicked off the day’s activities with a speech about the importance of Bengali New Year and the Library’s involvement in this year’s celebrations.

Layli Uddin, project curator of Two Centuries of Indian Print, gave a presentation on the Library’s Bengali collections, which was followed by curator Jody Butterworth presenting on the Endangered Archives Programme.

The event included the launch of a new pop-up travelling exhibition which celebrates 1940s Bangla films and includes key items from the Library’s collection. The exhibition, which also includes artwork by Age UK Camden as well as the Mother and Toddler Group from Edith Neville Primary School, is now touring venues in the Somers Town community. Its first stop is Regent High School and another four venues have requested to host it.


Guests enjoyed a Bengali-inspired lunch in the Knowledge Centre Bar and went out of their way to praise the traditional dishes on offer for their authentic flavours.

The afternoon’s activities included classical Indian dance by Priyanka Basu (pictured, top), who works cataloguing Bengali books for the Two Centuries of Indian Print project. Priyanka holds a PhD from the Department of the Languages and Cultures of South Asia, SOAS London for her thesis on Bengali Kobigan: Performers, Histories, and the Cultural Politics of ’Folk'.


Renowned Indian-Bangladeshi singer Sahana Bajpaie performed live as part of the group Sahana Bajpaie and Friends. The group included the oud (Syrian lute), Indian percussion and a keyboard in their lively set. The combination of the music and dance really brought the celebration to life.

The closing speech came from local community leader Barbara Hughes MBE, former Mayor of Camden and trustee of Age UK Camden.


We were really pleased that so many local people came to this event – and for many of them it wast their first ever visit to the British Library. It was fantastic to have our experts presenting to local people and sharing the Library’s knowledge. We’re confident that people will have left knowing quite a lot more about what goes on here,  and hopefully the travelling exhibition will inspire people to get in touch with us too.

Emma Morgan & Amber Perrier

Community Engagement Manager and Community Engagement Trainee


Find out more about the work of the Library's Community Engagement team by following @BL_Local

24 March 2017

Living Knowledge Network skills sharing day


The Living Knowledge Network’s first skills sharing day took place late last year. Librarians from around the UK came to the Norrish Library in Portsmouth to talk together, share ideas and learn collectively. Following a recent blog post on the event on the Libraries Taskforce blog, I received requests for more detailed information on the aims and outputs of the day, which I have summarised below.

Aims of the day

  • Share experience and best practice around working with children under 12 and hard to reach families
  • Network with partner libraries and Learning colleagues
  • Look at working together on joint learning opportunities

Spotlight Sessions

Nick Sharratt, Author/Illustrator

Experience working with under 12’s in museums/libraries/schools:

  • Short Stories are best for sharing as more interactive
  • Low-tech sometimes most effective
  • Books with lots of themes (and humour) good for interactivity and discussion
  • Flap books ideal for children with differing language skills (used by Nick Sharratt when working with Syrian refugee children)
  • Activities involving humour are good for engaging and getting the feel of groups
  • Content of books can generate activities, eg. Pants or Socks – designing sock animals or objects (Stegosockus or a Sock air balloon)
  • Props and actions provide interesting focal points and help engage children in the session (Never use a Knife and Fork – Balance bagels on head and do actions)
  • Inclusive draw-alongs on large rolls of paper ideal for big group activities

Cerys Griffiths, Executive Producer, BBC Learning

BBC Learning experience working with children in public libraries and lessons learnt:

  • Amazing Authors programme primarily focusing on C2,D,E audiences
  • Research shows that it is not so much brand that makes a difference, but activities that are accessible and open for everybody
  • Celebrities get headlines, but Social Media Influencers (e.g. blogger/vlogger e.g. charlieissocoollike) will actually influence what people do
  • Local Libraries key players in making the social media campaign successful for #LovetoRead
  • Post #LovetoRead weekend, statistics indicated initial 30% increase in borrowing from local libraries

Group Discussion

Strategies to attract hard to reach families into libraries through partnerships:

  • Looking to partner with Children’s Centres, Schools, and Community fun days/Fresher’s fairs
  • Changing perceptions
  • Taking activities outside the libraries – e.g. work with housing associations
  • Building up trust with long-term projects
  • Summer Reading Challenge generates excitement
  • Young ambassadors
  • Tours and behind the scenes features
  • Work with sports clubs to explore sport through libraries
  • Attract parents and dispel Threshold Anxiety by using the Library space for other activities – e.g. School plays and sleep overs
  • Tackle library and cultural institution representation in pop culture
  • Dispel myths about young people’s interests
  • Major challenge to attract parents and carers as opposed to children
  • Working with multi-agency groups to increase library reach with targeted families (C2,D,E) that libraries might not otherwise have data on
  • Be clear about target audience and target outcomes
  • Wider partnerships needed to reach wider services and marketing services
  • Libraries do not always have to be content providers, but also facilitators
  • Advocators needed in local communities

Key outcomes of the day

  • Partnerships with other local community and cultural organisations extremely important as they improve the reach of Libraries in who they can engage, and expands the scope of activities that can be put on
  • Evaluation becoming increasingly important in order to stand up to scrutiny from governing bodies
  • Important to re-evaluate activities and learning programmes periodically in order to avoid becoming outdated
  • Providing clear outcomes and a clear progression of activities important for sustained interest
  • Targeting and engaging adults (parents and carers) is just as important as engaging children under 12 in C2, D, E audiences as they are in control of children’s schedules

What participants thought

‘A really great informative day - a real treat to share and receive ideas’

‘It was great. Particularly the mix of people’

‘Locally we have established partners who we will work with in 2017 and provided colleagues with contacts out of area, which will certainly bear fruit in terms of ongoing skill sharing and new projects. On an immediate level, it was an opportunity to listen to some high level and very entertaining speakers.’


Ella Snell

Living Knowledge Network Manager


[Photo credit: Strong Island Co]