Living Knowledge blog

Behind the scenes at the British Library


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

05 October 2022

Developing a Single Digital Presence for public libraries: our journey so far

SDP-session-ACE-Youth-Advisory-Board-smallerSDP session at Arts Council England’s Youth Advisory Board, 24 September 2022.

Since our previous update in May, things have moved forward at pace on our project to develop a new platform for UK public libraries. A unified, national branded space online that will celebrate what people love most about libraries and enable local libraries to raise awareness of what they offer and share their content more widely online.

It feels especially appropriate to provide an update on the project in Libraries Week, during which many libraries across the country will be thinking about how they best serve their communities through uncertain times. It seems all the more relevant to be thinking about how we can ensure the new platform meets the needs of local libraries and the people they serve.

Work well underway

We now have a dedicated product team whose job it is to turn the platform it into a reality. Kicking off in early September, they have already made considerable progress towards defining what an early version of the platform will look like.

The-new-SDP-product-team-smallerThe new SDP product team, 1 September 2022.

We say ‘early version’ because this project is going to be an example of agile product development. This means that rather than coming up with an answer and building the solution – which cuts off opportunities to learn and adapt our approach – the team will build in iterative stages. We will design things that look real, test them with people, and aim to come away with insights that help us improve the user experience. Then we will follow the same process the next week. And so on.

This process is anchored in the notion that in order to solve real problems – be they for library staff, existing users or those who aren’t currently using libraries – we will get the best idea of what we need to build by showing people true-to-life examples and getting their real-time feedback.

Building in this way is a bold step for us. While agile product development underpins the construction of most of the apps and digital products you use on a day-to-day basis, they tend to be created by relatively young start-ups, built from the ground up to operate that way.

Building in collaboration

Building from the ground up is a key part of our approach for this project. That is why, throughout its design and development, we will be talking to library staff and users, as well as people who have rarely, if ever, set foot inside a library.

Our early explorations and discussions with public library staff have shown us that to build a truly national platform that supports loans and events will take considerable time. And while these services are still on the horizon, we’re now focusing on what we can deliver for the sector earlier, while continuing to learn what we need to do to build a more all-encompassing platform further down the road.

Of course, a project of this nature has many other moving parts. Over the last nine months, we have been working with experienced creative agency FCB Inferno to undertake in-depth research with libraries and audiences to develop the platform’s new name and look. We’ll be sharing this very soon, following testing of the final designs.

In addition, we’re holding regular show-and-tells with key colleagues here at the British Library and within the library sector. We’re also going to be starting monthly open drop-in sessions for sector stakeholders to attend from November.

Interested in hearing more? We’re sending out a regular email containing updates on the project for library staff. If you would like to receive it, please email us at

Tiina Hill

Single Digital Presence Head of Delivery, Public Libraries and Community Engagement


29 September 2022

Warm, safe and we also have WiFi - ways to enjoy the British Library for free

We know that many of our users and people from our local community may be experiencing the cost of living squeeze at the moment, as it gets harder for many people across the UK to make ends meet. There are plenty of ways to enjoy the Library for free, so we thought we’d share some reminders and tips on how to make the most of any visit to our St Pancras site – without opening your wallet.

Reading Rooms

If you haven’t dropped by for a while, it’s easy to forget that our warm, safe and spacious building at St Pancras is free to enter and explore. You might not realise that our Reading Rooms are also free to use – you just have to apply for a Reader Pass, and then you can visit these lovely calm oases and dive into our collections of books and materials as often as you like.

Food and drink in our foyers

It can be hard to find indoor spaces in London where you can sit without having to pay for food and drinks. But if you’re here at lunchtime, you’ll soon spot our visitors unwrapping their own sandwiches in the foyer. So don’t be shy: it’s fine for you to bring your own packed lunch to eat in the public spaces.

Our Treasures Gallery

Did you know that our Treasures Gallery is free to visit? Peek inside our permanent exhibition on the ground floor of the Library to discover a hidden gem. You really can just drop in to see the first ever collection of Shakespeare’s plays, Michelangelo’s anatomical illustrations or the desk where Jane Austen wrote her timeless novels.

Exhibitions and events

Wander through our foyers and you’ll find more free exhibitions showcasing the extraordinary items in our collections. We also host regular events, many of which don’t cost a thing, both in person and online.

You can find free events here on our website, so pop them in your diary for the chance to discover something new, ask questions and meet like-minded people.

We also regularly provide free tickets for our paid exhibitions and events to local community members. Get in touch with to learn more, or to be added to our local newsletter.


If you’re under 25 or over 60, then you’re eligible for discounted entry to our paid events and exhibitions. We also offer discounts to students and those who are registered as unemployed.

Activities for families

A child plays at the British Library Family Station

On the last Sunday of every month, we welcome little ones and their adults to our Family Station, a colourful base from which to enjoy our building. We’ve stocked it with children’s books and activities to get you started on a free Library adventure.

That’s our best advice on how to enjoy the Library without parting ways with your cash. We hope that even if you’re feeling the pinch, a visit will brighten your day. And don’t forget – we also have free WiFi!

Apply for a Reader Pass

Visit our Treasures Gallery

Discover free exhibitions and events

Bring your family to the Library

By the Digital Engagement Team

20 September 2022

The First Lady of Ukraine joins us to launch 'Books Without Borders'

'Books not only entertain and educate us - they also unite us bring us back to a feeling of home. This project is our victory on the cultural front, and it brings our primary victory closer.'

First Lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska

This summer, the British Library hosted a special event to mark the launch of ‘Books Without Borders’’- an initiative by the First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska, to print and distribute 16,000 books for newly arrived children and families displaced by the conflict. 

As the national library of the United Kingdom, we stand in solidarity with our colleagues at the Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine, as well as the millions of Ukrainian people displaced by the conflict.

As the home of the UK’s intellectual heritage with a collection of more than 170 million items, we were pleased to play our part in supporting the Ukrainian community through what we know and love most: books.  

Image 1

In support of the new initiative – a partnership between the Ukrainian embassy, represented at the event by the Ambassador Vadym Prystaiko and his wife Inna, the Publishers’ Licensing Services and book print specialists Halstan - we welcomed 40 children, their families, and Children’s Commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza to the British Library’s Learning Centre. Building on our existing programme of workshops and events for young people and our recent work with Afghan refugees, our Learning Team led a range of fun activities for families on the day including a special tour of the Library, hands-on bookmaking activities, and a visit to the Treasures of the British Library gallery. 

But the spirit of unity and solidarity didn’t stop there, as a surprise was in store for all present. The First Lady joined us live on screen from Kyiv to read an excerpt from one of the project’s books, ‘Stories on the 14th Track’. It’s the tale of a steam-engine train called Hryuk -  the First Lady’s team chose this book having been inspired by Ukraine’s railway workers, who are celebrated as national heroes for their outstanding public service during the war.    

As the children grapple with their new life in the UK, Liz Jolly, our Chief Librarian, reiterated that the British Library belongs to everyone. She concluded by remarking ‘we want you to know that the British Library is your national library too. I hope you’ll also use your local public libraries wherever you are, and enjoy everything they have to offer.’

Image 2

And in that spirit, we will continue to work with the Ukrainian partners over the coming weeks and months to support Ukrainian refugees in the UK.

Blerina Hashani, Public Policy and Campaigns Manager 
Rob Field, Head of Public Policy