Living Knowledge blog

3 posts from July 2016

25 July 2016

Never mind the British Library, here’s Punk

In June the British Library hosted ‘An Evening with John Lydon’ which saw Lydon, aka The Sex Pistols’ Jonny Rotten, outspoken commentator and cultural figurehead, in conversation with BBC6 Music’s Stuart Maconie.

This was Lydon’s only live interview of 2016 and it consequently got us thinking about punks – and libraries.

SLP-33John Lydon at the British Library, June 2016. Photo by Michael Redina. 

The British Library and counter-culture

'Punk is not dead – it’s living at the British Library' – Metro’s The HOT List.

Punk 1976-1978 is a free exhibition currently on show at the Library, celebrating the 40th anniversary of Punk as a phenomenon. The verdict of Metro hints at the Library’s own punk life-force: subversive or otherwise it is our duty to build, curate and preserve the UK’s national collection.

From Lydon to Lawrence to Leonardo we have over 150 million items in our collections and punk sounds, print and memorabilia rub shoulders with Leonardo’s notebooks, William Tyndale’s 1534 English translation New Testament and other radicals of their time. It is our job to make all of our cultural heritage and knowledge available to everyone for research or enjoyment.

Punks love public libraries

“When I came out of hospital, reading and libraries saved me” - John Lydon

Through the form of a pan-UK network the British Library has recently been developing a cultural and learning partnership with 20 public libraries across the UK – the ‘Living Knowledge Network’. The Lydon interview was live streamed to Exeter and Middlesbrough public libraries who are two partners in the new Network.

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The live-screening of the Lydon event in action.

Over 100 punk rockers came to listen to the notorious Lydon being interviewed outside of London. Karen Leach-Bowdler Senior Supervisor-Development at Exeter Library said that ‘it was a very new audience for us which was great’. All the audience gave 100% positive feedback and all said that they would attend a British Library Live event again and would also recommend it.

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The audience at Exeter - including punks past and present.

The event was also a reminder of the empowering nature of public libraries, and their unique ability to provide access to knowledge to anyone who wants to learn. The get up and do-it-yourself message of punk (here are three chords, now form a band) resonates in public libraries. Advocates like Lydon remind us that public libraries are there for us all to enjoy and use.

60, 50, #punk40

In 2016 John Lydon turned 60.

Punk 1976-78 is part of punk London, a year of events, gigs, films, talks and exhibits celebrating 40 years of punk heritage and influence.

Lydon is fully aware of the resonance of anniversaries of course. On the holiday of Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee, 7 June 1977, the Sex Pistols attempted to play ‘God Save the Queen’ on The Queen Elizabeth boat on the Thames. They failed in this endeavour.

The British Library is currently 44 – but turns 50 in 2023 and we are looking ahead to that date. By that time we want to be the most open, creative, and innovative institution of its kind. As part of our journey to our 50th year we published Living Knowledge which sets out our aims and ambitions as an institutions and acts as a roadmap for our journey. In the words of our CEO, Roly Keating, ‘these are times of historic disruption in the whole global system of information and publication, and it seems right that the great knowledge institutions – with their historic remit to think and act with a view far into the future – should play a full part in shaping the changes that lie ahead.’

One way we hope to do achieve these goals by 2023 is through working in partnership, with public libraries and punks alike, to reach diverse audiences across the UK.

Ella Snell

Living Knowledge Network Manager


08 July 2016

Work experience in the British Library Press Office

Ben Sanderson, Head of Press and Communications, writes: each year the Library offers a number of short work experience placements. This week we were pleased to welcome Ali Muminoglu to the Communications Team at St Pancras. Ali, who is starting his A-levels in September, has written a blog about his busy week finding out about what we get up to all day.

 When I applied to do a week of work experience at the British Library back in April, working in an office was not the first thing that sprang to mind. So when I learned that I would be spending a week in the press and communications office, I was at first a little disappointed.

 I anticipated a week spent at the bottom of the office food chain, fetching coffee and photocopying, just making spreadsheets. I had begun to ask myself whether there would be anything distinguishing this work experience from any other. I didn’t think that I would have a chance to experience the ‘library’ part of the British Library.

I soon discovered I was wrong.


Lead Media Officer Elsie King and Ali Muminoglu, at the end of Ali's work experience at the Library. Photo by Sophia Chrisafis.

From the very start of my week here, my experience was the complete opposite of what I had expected. The press team were cheerful and upbeat, and they made me feel right at home.

The office wasn’t the stressful, uptight place I thought it would be, but rather, a calm and friendly (but still busy) environment. I thought I would get in the way of actual work, but everyone was more than happy to involve me in what they were doing, something which I am thankful for. The work I saw was far more interesting than I expected.

But what surprised me most of all was the sheer diversity of the work happening. From meetings about digitising two centuries worth of Indian print to planning an open day for the 10th anniversary of the Business & IP Centre, surveying the opinions of MPs about the British Library to writing letters to the new Deputy Mayor for Culture and Creative Industries, the massive variety of work blew me away.                     

I never knew that the British Library handled such a huge spread of assignments, much less one department. I was surprised again and again by the different fields of work dealt with by the press and communications team. It completely defied my expectations.

(The free food tasting session with Grayson’s, the new caterers, was also pretty cool, although I’m told that free food is not a regular occurrence).

Sadly, I am now near the end of my time at the British Library. It has been awesome, and I can’t remember having a dull moment. Considering the friendly atmosphere, great food­­­­­­ and wide range of work I was able to see, I’m now slightly jealous of everyone who works here. With my week of work experience here ending soon, I find myself wishing that I had applied for two.

Ali Muminoglu

Work experience student


01 July 2016

Help shape the future of our digital research spaces

Previous Living Knowledge posts have described the progress we’ve made on our major programme to expand and reorient our site at St Pancras. As well as delivering new spaces for exhibitions, events and catering, the programme also aims to create research spaces that offer new kinds of access to our extensive digital collections.

These collections include the billions of pages of content contained in the UK web archive, hundreds of thousands of digital publications received through Legal Deposit and digital content including data, audio and video.

We are keen to get as many ideas as possible on what a digital research space might offer, both from staff around the Library, and Readers and other researchers. These ideas will help inform our future plans, giving us fresh and innovative ideas for new ways of working with digital content – and new possibilities for the kinds of research and collaborative working that might be possible in a non-traditional setting.

A-view-from-inside-the-kings-library-at-st-pancras-SMALLERView from inside the King's Library Tower, St Pancras. Photo by Tony Antoniou.

Please let us have your ideas!

If you are already a Reader at the British Library, or a researcher using other collections – especially digital collections – we’re keen to hear your ideas on a couple of subjects in particular:

  • Meeting people at the British Library
  • Making the most of your first visit

To contribute to these discussions, please sign up to our user community and explore the discussion threads currently underway. During the course of the next months, we will be seeding further discussion threads and posing challenges as to what users think a digital research space might offer.

The online forum will be available over the coming months, and we will assess all the ideas submitted and feed them into our Digital reading Room project. The best ideas will feature in a future blog post, reflecting on the ideas and feedback we’ve received.

Nigel Spencer

Research and Business Development Manager