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16 May 2018

UK Research and Innovation launched at the British Library

UKRI-blog-pic1-smaller‘Here at the British Library, we believe research and innovation are vital, not only for the health of economy, but for the life of everyone in society. It is a thought that this very building is shaped around’ – these were the Library’s Chief Executive Roly Keating’s opening words as he welcomed colleagues, Government Ministers and numerous guests to the launch of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), a new UK public body bringing together seven research councils, Research England and Innovate UK.

Short speeches from Sir John Kingman, Chair of UKRI, and Sir Mark Walport, Chief Executive of UKRI, marked the start of this new public body, charged by the Government with an ambition for the UK to become the most innovative country in the world, and ensure that new ideas and technologies address the complex challenges facing our society.

Photo 14-05-2018  18 12 42  Photo 14-05-2018  18 20 31Above: Greg Clark MP, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy; Sam Gyimah MP, Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation.

Top: at the UKRI launch at the British Library, Monday 14 May. L-R: UKRI Chair Sir John Kingman; UKRI Executive Champion for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Professor Jennifer Rubin; British Library CEO, Roly Keating; Greg Clark MP; UKRI CEO, Sir Mark Walport.

The Right Hon Greg Clark MP, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, confirmed the Government’s support, including a commitment to increase the UK’s investment in research and development to 2.4% of GDP by 2027, raising it in the future to 3%. Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, Sam Gyimah MP, further stressed the high expectations that UKRI will underpin the UK’s ambition to become a global hub of high-tech, research-led businesses.

The speeches were rounded off by Professor Jennifer Rubin, Executive Chair of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), who expanded UKRI’s objectives to understand not only technologies, but human behaviours and social context behind current global challenges. She also stressed importance of developing better research skills on all levels, enabling use of new types of data, encouraging creativity, as well as much greater diversity across the research ecosystem.

Claire-breayDr Claire Breay, who curated the Library's 2015 blockbuster exhibition Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy, which was underpinned by the findings of AHRC-funded research.

Dr Claire Breay, the Library’s Head of Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts, represented research funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) by showcasing research done in collaboration with the University of East Anglia to support the Library’s 2015 Magna Carta exhibition and the 800th anniversary celebrations. This was also an opportunity to show the British Library’s work as itself an Independent Research Organisation, and emphasise the importance of research within cultural organisations.

UKRI-blog-pics3Roly Keating, CEO of the British Library: "Research and innovation are vital, not only for the health of economy, but for the life of everyone in society." 

All speakers generously acknowledged how the British Library location was perfect for the UKRI launch in more ways than one. Greg Clark MP said that the Library, together with The Francis Crick Institute, provides an immediate symbol of UK research for international visitors arriving to St Pancras station into London’s Knowledge Quarter, saying that visitors who get off the Eurostar will quickly see the strength of the institutions we have established here, expanding influence to all generations across all dimensions of creativity.


Sir Mark Walport emphasised the digital and data challenges that face our society and economy, and which are central to the research of the Alan Turing Institute and the British Library. As Chief Executive of UKRI he has set a vision of an open research system that is about ensuring better access and more innovative research that will benefit everyone across aspects of society. The British Library looks forward to continuing to work with UKRI and its partners over the next few years.

Maja Maricevic

Head of Higher Education


Further information about UKRI can be found on their website and in their new Strategic Prospectus: Building the UKRI Strategy.

14 May 2018

Snozzcumbers in Norwich: Quentin Blake’s Roald Dahl portraits on tour

Isabelle King

Quentin Blake’s centenary portraits of some of Roald Dahl’s most memorable characters are currently on display at Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library

I’m delighted to be the Children’s Author in Residence for the duration of this fantastic exhibition: not only has it created the perfect excuse for me to use words like ‘whizpopping’ and ‘snozzcumbers’ in public speeches and on British Library blogs but it’s also been a wonderful way to take part in community events with the Library and engage with readers, writers and families.

Roald Dahl inspired me, as he inspired so many children, to discover a joy for literature. The way he conjured quirky characters with a mischievous humour and terrific sense of fun made for very exciting reading. Seeing his imagination brought to life by Quentin Blake in such unique and astonishing illustrations gave me a real sense that stories can breathe beyond the page. 

Blake’s 10 new portraits are displayed at the front of Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library - a world of imagination to welcome you inside. It’s been brilliant to see people’s reactions to the pictures which seem to provoke discussions as to ‘which is your favourite?’ Some prefer the enigmatic intrigue of a villain, the terrifying Grand High Witch and (hilariously grumpy) Miss Trunchbull, others prefer the endearing charm of a plucky protagonist such as Danny and his Dad or Sophie and the BFG. 

My personal favourite is Matilda, I love her look of triumph as she sits on top of the pile of books, a reminder that stories empower us. To celebrate the portraits I’ve worked with the Library to organise interactive events. This has included hosting one of my Books Talk Back events, literary events which support and showcase new writing. I have had the pleasure of running four Books Talk Back events at the British Library, featuring the Writers in Residence at the Eccles Centre for American Studies as guest authors, which have included Tracy Chevalier and Naomi Wood. 

I love the way that books bring people together and I created these events to make information about writing accessible to everyone with an interest. At each event, we share insight and ideas about getting started as a writer. Books Talk Back is now my Prince’s Trust supported enterprise through which I run creative writing workshops in schools, encouraging children to write stories of their own. We also explore storytelling through illustration and the Quentin Blake pictures are the perfect inspiration to spark a story. 

The residency happily coincides with the release of my new children’s book Once Upon A Time in Norfolk. Norfolk has a wealth of fascinating history and I wanted to capture that through imaginative storytelling. Endorsed by Norfolk Museums Service the book consists of eight fictional short stories which combine local history with imagination and fun. 

The book launch took place at Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library on 12 May, where we made snap dragons inspired by the ones you can see at Norwich Castle, featured in Once Upon A Time in Norfolk. I’ve also teamed up with Norfolk Heritage Centre to run family events bringing their archives to life through storytelling. Most recently, this included ‘spinning a yarn’ inspired by weaving objects from Norfolk museum, Strangers’ Hall, featured in my book.

The Quentin Blake portraits have provided a wonderful opportunity to bring people together in so many creative and exciting ways. You have until early June to come and see them for yourself - they make for a phiz-whizzing visit!

Isabelle King

Children’s Author in Residence

Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library

Isabelle’s website



21 March 2018

Jane Eyre in Shanghai – part one


Dickens is big in China. So is DH Lawrence. As for Charlotte Brontë, having spent the past week in Shanghai I became increasingly convinced that Jane Eyre (Jian Ai) is even more popular among Chinese readers than she is in her native land.

The handwritten fair copy of Jane Eyre, along with other manuscript treasures from five of the greatest writers in the English language, have just gone on display in a major exhibition at Shanghai Library – Where Great Writers Gather: Treasures of the British Library.

DSC_5053Top and above: journalists at the press preview for Where Great Writers Gather: Treasures of the British Library, at Shanghai Library until 15 April 2018.  

The original manuscripts from the British Library were chosen by curators at both institutions working in collaboration, and reveal many different aspects of their creation and role in the process of publication. The Jane Eyre manuscript bears both the inky fingerprints and name of one of the typesetters who prepared the blocks of type for printing.

Letters from TS Eliot to his friend Alison Tandy and her daughter Polly include drafts of poems for Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, and show a playful intellect thinking through his creative ideas to sympathetic readers. The messy draft of Dickens’ Pickwick Papers are testimony to the fact that he was writing at great speed for serial publication and so hadn’t the time to produce a fair copy – much to the chagrin of a succession of long-suffering typesetters who struggled to read his heavily-worked scrawl.

Shanghai-exhibition-ts-eliot-letter-tandy-smallerOne of the British Library's star items: a letter from T.S. Eliot to Polly Tandy, dated 13 February 1940, British Library Add MS 71003, f 45r. © Faber & Faber Ltd. and the Estate of T.S. Eliot.

Shanghai-exhibition-dickens-cropDickens working at speed: the manuscript for part of chapter 19 of The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, 1836-7, British Library Add MS 39182, f 2r. © Mark Charles Dickens, Head of the Dickens Family. Some rights reserved.

A 1915 letter from DH Lawrence to his agent James Brand Pinker discusses the possibility of privately printing his novel The Rainbow, after it was banned for obscenity. The manuscript of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s sonnet to Lord Byron shows how personal relationships between poets could be a wellspring of creativity.

These manuscripts are displayed alongside translations, adaptations and early editions from Shanghai Library’s collections. The work of more than 50 translators is featured – demonstrating the sheer scale of the Chinese market for English literature in translation from the late nineteenth century onwards.

DSC_4235One of Shanghai Library's printed treasures: Gulliver's Travels - published in 1872 and the earliest example of a novel translated from English into Chinese. The work of more than 50 translators features in the exhibition.

The earliest Chinese translation of an English or Irish novel was – appropriately enough – Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, published as ‘Tan Ying Xiao Lu’ in 1872. Multiple translations of the five featured writers testify to the longevity and scale of the Chinese public’s appetite for English literature, as well as Shanghai’s historic role as a gateway through which English works first arrived in China, subsequently finding an audience through the city’s strong traditions of translation and publishing.

Lead British Library curator Alexandra Ault worked with the team of Director Xiangong Huang, Shanghai Library’s head of historical archives, to pull together not just an absorbing and illuminating exhibition but also a handsome bilingual catalogue. QR codes embedded in the exhibition design lead visitors to additional materials on the featured authors at the British Library’s Chinese website:

The exhibition is the latest milestone in an ambitious three-year programme: The British Library in China: connecting through culture and learning which has already seen exhibitions at the National Library of China in Beijing and Mu Xin Art Museum in Wuzhen. Supported by funding from the UK Government, the programme has also enabled the creation of the Library’s first website for Chinese readers – featuring more than 200 digitised literary highlights, as well as articles, video clips and other contextual material.

Just as important as staging exhibitions and sharing resources with audiences in China is the process of working with our Chinese colleagues to share knowledge and expertise, which I will write about in the second part of this blog.

DSC_4504Xiangong Huang, Shanghai Library’s head of historical archives, and Alexandra Ault, lead curator of Western Manuscripts 1601-1850 at the British Library, who collaborated closely on the content of Where Great Writers Gather: Treasures of the British Library.

The first visitors and journalists to see the exhibition have responded with delight and surprise. Nothing matches the thrill of seeing original literary masterpieces first hand, but it’s also a genuine revelation to see the Chinese passion for English literature in translation captured in this way.

My own favourite items were the translation of Gulliver’s Travels, and the first Chinese translation of TS Eliot’s The Waste Land, which was published in 1934. That one of the most (self-consciously) avant garde and difficult poems ever written in English should be shared so swiftly with the Chinese reading public highlights the depth and richness of the cultural relationship between the two peoples.

Lovers of literature in Shanghai and beyond have until 15 April to experience it for themselves.

Ben Sanderson

Head of Press and Communications