Living Knowledge blog

Behind the scenes at the British Library

Introduction

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

26 January 2022

Enacting change – rolling out our Race Equality Action Plan

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Over the course of 2021, staff at the British Library engaged in an unprecedented and powerful conversation about race and equality.

The Anti-Racism Project (ARP) involved members of staff drawn from all levels, across all areas of the Library, with the aim of enacting a generational shift so we become a more representative and diverse organisation that is welcoming and empowering for everyone.

Last autumn, the six working sub-groups of the project submitted their recommendations, which form the basis of a Race Equality Action Plan (click to download) which was presented to the Library’s Board and Strategic Leadership Team, for their input and endorsement.

Sponsored by our Chief Librarian, Liz Jolly, and strongly supported by all of our senior leaders, the project is now moving from the planning and analysis phase to an organisation-wide process of implementation.

In his preface to the Race Equality Action Plan, our Chief Executive Roly Keating wrote: “We have listened to many voices that were previously unheard, and have had challenging conversations about the experiences of staff and users that highlight things that urgently need to change.

“We’ve taken time to reflect on how to make these changes permanent, and how we take the whole Library with us as we transform our processes, practices and culture.

“The Library’s senior leaders will take forward this work over the next three years, and will be accountable for turning these recommendations into reality,” Roly added. “From the way we recruit and develop our staff, to the material we collect for current and future generations of researchers, to the way we engage with new audiences – we have identified high-level actions that provide a road-map for measurable, concrete and lasting change.”

Taking forward the high-level actions

The working sub-groups generated a wide range of recommendations, from the immediate to the long-term, covering areas including:

  • People and HR Policies
  • Behaviour, values and experiences
  • Audiences
  • Data, research and insights
  • Collections and content
  • Cataloguing and metadata
  • Communications

The relevant senior leaders across the Library will now look carefully at these and talk with their teams about how they can implement them over the coming months.

From the start, the Anti-Racism Project has been about the need for real and sustainable change, that reaches every part of the Library – the next phase is when that work goes beyond what the Project has done, and becomes something that’s owned and implemented by senior managers, their teams, and by everyone working at the Library.

Next steps in the coming months

In the months ahead, the senior leaders will refine their top-level objectives and establish metrics for measuring progress in delivering the Race Equality Action Plan, for which the Library will hold itself accountable.

As an initial example, a key focus for our sponsor department, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is diversity within our senior management structure. We aim to address the long-standing lack of representation in senior management at the Library by recommending provisional targets of increasing black and minority ethnic representation in key areas over the coming years, including a proposed headline target of 15% of SB4 staff and above by 2027.

We also want to be able to engage with peer organisations, diverse communities and the media, to talk positively and confidently about why this work is so important, and what progress we expect to make at each stage. We have lots to learn from other organisations, but we also want to become a role model ourselves, and demonstrate how it’s possible to effect meaningful permanent change in our culture and activity.

Roly Keating observes that: “It will take time, energy and leadership, but this is a vital part of fulfilling our wider commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion, ensuring that we become a great national library for everyone.”

We are looking forward to sharing more about the progress we make through future updates on the Living Knowledge blog.

Hugh Brown and T. Rajukumar

Co-Chairs of the Anti-Racism Project at the British Library

 

24 January 2022

Library Lives: Rosemary O’Hare, Glasgow

‘In every library I have worked in there is always a ‘library cardigan’. No one will know who it originally belonged to, but it appears – like the sword of Gryffindor – for those that need it when working late evenings in cold buildings.’ 

In this month’s celebration of librarians, we meet Rosemary O’Hare, Principal Librarian in The Mitchell Library in Glasgow. 

Rosemary OHare GlasgowRosemary O’Hare

Tell us about your role. 
I manage Glasgow Libraries’ eResources (information databases to support study, research and business) as well as the Business & IP Centre (BIPC) Glasgow. The BIPC network is led by the British Library and has centres across the UK but Glasgow is the first BIPC in Scotland. The BIPC model blends the use of library resources and working with partners to offer support and advice for entrepreneurs and small businesses. We help businesses to start up and grow, with emphasis on underrepresented groups. 

The Mitchell Library social media imageThe Mitchell Library

Where was your local library growing up? 
Coatbridge Library in North Lanarkshire. At that time, it was a traditional sandstone Carnegie library, which was imposing from the outside but welcoming once inside.  

Why did you want to become a librarian? 
I previously worked in a bookshop and enjoyed researching and sourcing material for customers. I liked the idea of enabling others to do the same so went back to university to do a Library Studies course. 
 
Do you have a favourite item in your library’s collection?  
I’m biased towards the eResources – we provide access to amazing resources that would otherwise be out of reach or prohibitively expensive for most people. 

It’s also handy to know that when you come across a paywall while reading an article online that there’s a good chance you can access the full story via our ProQuest database (newspapers, magazines and journals) with our library card – for free and without creating an account with yet another site. 

What is your favourite query you have helped someone with? 
My favourite queries are the ones where you surpass the user’s expectations. We used to be a reference-only library and sometimes people get in touch thinking everything is still as restricted, for example, when they want to view British Standards (technical standards required on a wide range of products and services). When they are shown that we now have the entire collection available to search through online (around 40,000 current, historic and draft British, European and International standards produced by the British Standards Institution), that staff are available to provide user support and that they are even able to view the standards remotely with a library card, they are amazed. Being able to highlight other relevant resources or refer them on to our Experts in Residence programme is always satisfying. 

What's your favourite thing that you can do in a library? 
Have the freedom to learn, read and think. 

Other than your own, where's your favourite library, or one you would most like to visit?  
Helsinki Central Library Oodi. I visited a number of libraries in Helsinki a few years back and it was just about to be built. I liked the Finnish attitude to libraries, that design was as important to the library experience as the content and services, and that they should be designed in consultation with users. 

Sum up being a librarian in three words 
Information literacy champion. 

Tell us something about yourself that has nothing to do with your job 
I love visiting new places when travelling around Britain – anywhere there’s a tea room with local varieties of baked goods!  

What one thing do you wish people knew about libraries which you suspect they don’t? 
That a lot of work goes on behind the scenes in order to provide the public service – like an iceberg you’re only seeing the tip. 

How have things changed in libraries since you qualified? 
The role of the internet has made the greatest change.  It was still a novelty when I chartered [gained the professional librarian qualification] but I now edit websites as part of my job. It has opened up library collections, many of which can now be accessed outside of opening hours, making accurate and curated information more freely available and easily accessible.  
 
Book recommendation? 
Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? By Seamas O'Reilly. It’s a memoir following the tragedy of the title which also manages to be laugh-out-loud funny. 

Find out more about Glasgow’s BIPC Centre by clicking here. It’s one of 19 National Network BIPCs around the UK. The BIPC can help you imagine, start or develop your business. 

Interview by Ellen Morgan.

We’re interviewing people who have professional registration status as a librarian via the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals or who have an academic qualification such as a first degree, a postgraduate diploma or a Master’s degree in library and information studies or librarianship. 

Is this you? If you’d like to feature in Library Lives, get in touch with ellen.morgan@bl.uk 

Would you like this to be you? Find out more about becoming a librarian on the CILIP website. 

 
 

09 December 2021

Taking your favourite exhibitions around the world

What do Paddington, Harry Potter and miniature books have in common? They’re all the subject of exhibitions that have gone on to tour following runs here at our site in St Pancras. After the setbacks of the COVID-19 pandemic our touring programme has gathered strength and we now have three exhibitions on the road in the UK and Japan.

Our much-loved exhibition, Harry Potter: A History of Magic, will soon open at Tokyo Station Gallery following its recent run at Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art in Kobe. The exhibition is our most successful to date having been seen by 156,000 visitors in London in 2017 and we’re thrilled to show it in Japan, following its popular tour to the New-York Historical Society in 2018.

The exhibition takes visitors on a magical journey to the heart of the Harry Potter stories and features original material by J K Rowling, alongside artwork from the books and our own treasures.

Harry potter exhibition500

A new chapter for Harry Potter: A History of Magic

Not every object from an original exhibition held at the Library can travel due to fragility or light exposure limits, so we often have to select alternative objects from our collection and elsewhere. As Japanese audiences love fine art we borrowed a number of pre-Raphaelite oil paintings from UK museum collections for the latest tour of Harry Potter: A History of Magic.

Harrypotterbroomstick

The Horniman Museum’s Japanese Merman, which delighted audiences in London and New York, was replaced by a similar mummy from a Japanese temple. And we also added material that told the publishing story of Harry Potter in Japan.

Merman500

Initially due to open in 2020, the exhibition would have marked the 20th anniversary of the first publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in Japan, however, the global pandemic led to a one year delay and a complete rethink by our Exhibitions team on how to tour exhibitions in uncertain times.

How do you install an exhibition abroad during a pandemic?

The exhibition had to be installed virtually due to COVID-19 travel restrictions which required a great deal of planning. An online book-strapping and object-handling workshop was led by our Conservation team and illustrated packing and mounting notes were provided to ensure easy understanding on arrival.

In Kobe the installation took place over six days with virtually supervised objects being installed between 7am and 1pm and overseen by exhibitions, curatorial and conservation staff. The Japanese conservators worked long days but always with the utmost care for the collection. Amazingly very few issues were encountered during the installation despite the time difference, language barrier and working on screens!

A marmalade-loving bear goes on a new adventure

This season has also seen our incredibly popular Paddington: The Story of a Bear exhibition begin its travels (although sadly not to Peru). After its run this year in St Pancras – supported by our travel partner GWR and the Unwin Charitable Trust – it will appear in four venues around the UK, starting at Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery in Carlisle. A particularly fitting inaugural destination for the tour, as it is home to the World Original Marmalade Awards!

We’ve already had lots of fun with Paddington this year, particularly at our Family Day in Leeds. The open air stage at Slung Low this summer saw storyteller Richard O’Neill imagining Paddington visiting Leeds and was followed by a version of the Lost Property Library, a project that we’ve been working on with Wrongsemble that encourages families to get involved with the performances.   

This interactive storytelling adventure continues in the exhibition at Tullie House, where they’re creating a story lab which guides visitors through creating their own Paddington-inspired tales. Like the exhibition at the Library, there’ll be plenty to see, with first editions of the books, original illustrations, and stories on the origins of Paddington.

Paddington exhibition view

Taking our treasures to you

We’re also working with museums and galleries across the UK through our Treasures on Tour programme. We’re opening up our collections by lending important works to all areas of the country so people can enjoy them closer to home, often in the towns and cities where they were originally discovered or created. One such loan that opened this autumn, is a display of the Bodmin Gospels and Cornish Passion Poem manuscripts, which have travelled to Kresen Kernow in their home county of Cornwall.

Treasures on tour2

Further north, our Miniature Books exhibition recently opened at Newcastle City Library. Inspired by the tiny books the Brontë family created for their toys, this exhibition features miniature books and manuscripts from our historical and contemporary collections. They sit alongside the smallest of books made by children in lockdown last year as part of a project run by our Learning team, who worked with famous children’s authors – including Viviane Schwarz and Joseph Coelho – to share their own mini creations.

The tour is in partnership with Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children’s Books, who have added items from their own collection to complement the original display. And to keep building our National Library of Miniature Books, local primary schools in Newcastle will also create their own tiny books for the exhibition.

Coming to a venue near you

So, fear not. If you can’t make it to one of our must-see exhibitions in London, you might just find it in a museum, gallery or library near you in the not too distant future. Look out for updates in our emails, on our social media channels or wherever you get your local news.

 

Our Treasures on Tour programme is generously supported by the Helen Hamlyn Trust.

The Miniature Books exhibition is supported by the Brian Mitchell Charitable Settlement.

The Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibition was developed in collaboration with The Blair Partnership and Paddington: The Story of A Bear has been created in partnership with Copyrights Group.