Innovation and enterprise blog

04 February 2022

Meet the Team: Nigel Spencer

Nigel Spencer is the Research and Business Development Manager for the BIPC and Electronic Services. He’s also the man behind our BIPC Reference team at the British Library, a team central to the support the BIPC provides to businesses through one to ones, intellectual property expertise and start up workshops. The team is going to miss Nigel's presence, as he retires this week so we wanted to give him a shout-out and say goodbye to him by bringing his knowledge and insight to you…

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Nigel has been at the British Library for 39 years, when he started his work as a Clerical Officer on the Reference Desk at the Science Reference Library, Holborn in March 1983. A little bit of library trivia for you, this had previously been the Patent Office Library, and was funded to support innovation in the wake of the Great Exhibition of 1851.

“The library widened its coverage to include business information as well as intellectual property in 1982 – the origins of BIPC stretch back more years than you may have thought! I have been fortunate enough to be involved from the 1980s, to the service we launched in 2006 in the St Pancras building and that we are now rolling out across London and the rest of the UK.”

Through his career, Nigel saw the library change a great deal, from the arrival of the internet to the move from the Holborn site to St Pancras in the 1990s, which for Nigel, dominated the decade. He has managed reference teams across the Library, the Patent Express document delivery service, Imaging Services, managed European projects and much more. “Working on all of these has been challenging and fun and it has been wonderful to work with teams of highly motivated and talented people. It was also nice to spend some time working across Reference this year. Reference was where I started, so it feels right to work with this area just before I retire.”

What are your main interests or areas of expertise at the BIPC?

Information and the knowledge that can be gained from it has the power to change lives and this is what really keeps me motivated. This is particularly the case in the BIPC, our message is inclusive and the help we offer is very practical. This also applies to all the British Library collections, whether it is giving people a better appreciation of their own identity to having the confidence to form their own views based on evidence we provide.

I wouldn’t say that I am an expert in anything but in recent years I have become a strong advocate for the Lean Start-Up approach to starting a business. There is a lot of hyperbole about entrepreneurship and what makes an entrepreneur but, in contrast, this approach presents a simple process that is accessible to anyone.

What’s one BIPC resource you’d love to recommend to people?

I am going to take this opportunity to highlight what I think is a hidden treasure and the first collection I ever curated. This is the Trade Literature collection held in the basements. It is a collection of company catalogues and brochures dating back to the 1830s and they provide a rich insight into the detail of people’s lives and technological developments since then. Toy catalogues, for example, reveal detail about the nature of childhood at the time they were published, and the medical equipment catalogues from the 19th century make me very grateful to be living now rather than then! It isn’t all about history however, as they can also provide interesting design ideas that can be applied to new products.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself?

I was the least competent painter in my art class when I was 11. A mix up with colours led to me painting a picture that combined the Sussex countryside with a desert scene. This accidental surreal masterpiece was selected for the Sunday Mirror National Exhibition of Children’s Art in 1970 and was hung in the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly. At that age I believed that I was much better at nihilistic poetry but, unsurprisingly, never won any awards for that – although the, very dark, ‘Ed the Tramp’ did make the annual school magazine. I reached my creative peak aged 11.

Finally, where are you most likely to be found?

Almost anywhere talking to someone about Brighton & Hove Albion!

Thank you, Nigel, for your dedication to supporting the entrepreneurs who have walked through our doors and visited us online over the years, and for continuing to inspire a new generation of business owners through your community engagement work, especially in the local Camden area.

We’ll be catching up with Nigel in a few weeks to see what he’s been getting up to post life at the British Library and the BIPC, stay tuned!