Knowledge Matters 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

25 May 2023

Launching Knowledge Matters – our new strategic vision to 2030


Today we publish Knowledge Matters, the British Library’s strategy for the next seven years. It outlines the ways in which we as the UK national library want to do more for new and existing audiences, while adapting to the monumental changes that are already impacting both the knowledge industry and the wider world.

It comes as we celebrate our 50th anniversary – the Library began operations on 1 July 1973 – and reflect on five decades in which we have grown into one of the world’s great research libraries. The story of how we develop over our next fifty years begins with this document.

Looking back, looking forward

It’s easy to overlook that we are, in fact, a comparatively young organisation – roughly contemporary with several of the big software giants, rather than our longer-established peers in the heritage sector. As a research library, the growth and take-off of the knowledge economy over the past half-century has presented the most extraordinary opportunities for us to serve current and future generations of users, while also requiring us constantly to learn and respond – and periodically to refresh our strategic objectives and the goals we set ourselves.

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Knowledge Matters builds on and shares many continuities with its predecessor strategy – Living Knowledge – which spanned the period from 2015 to now, and which saw us develop and extend our reach through both the Living Knowledge Network (LKN) of national and public libraries, and through the Business & IP Centre National Network, which now extends to 21 libraries across the UK. We successfully grew our digital collection from 0.49 petabytes in 2013 to 2.95 petabytes by the start of 2023, working in partnership with the national libraries of Wales and Scotland, and the other UK and Irish Legal Deposit Libraries.

We also initiated a number of major capital programmes, including the renewal of our Boston Spa site in Yorkshire and – in the longer-term – the establishment of a permanent British Library site in the centre of nearby Leeds.  We also plan to expand our iconic London campus at St Pancras – an ambitious vision for which we now have planning permission. Each of these programmes has a long and complex journey to implementation, but building on the solid foundations laid down so far, we look forward to further advancing these transformative plans over the coming years.

Adapting to a changing world

Along with the continuities, our new strategy also addresses a range of major trends in and around the sectors we work in; collectively these amount to a renewed commitment to serving as broad a public as possible – becoming genuinely ‘for everyone’ in the scope and accessibility of what we offer.

These include the acceleration of technological change, and especially the widespread application of Artificial Intelligence (AI), necessitating a further step-change in digital transformation to modernise our services and systems, and keep pace with the expectations of our digital users. In parallel, there’s a more urgent need that ever before for libraries to play an active role in fostering information literacy – helping people of all ages and backgrounds to evaluate critically the superabundant (and too often distorted) range of information sources now available online and via social media.

Living Knowledge recognised the value of high-quality physical spaces, events and collaboration, alongside the ever more interactive digital realm. Through the work we have done with local partners in communities both in St Pancras and Leeds, and also with Living Knowledge Network partners across the UK, we now have a greater understanding of the importance of place-making – investing in the real places where people live and work, and which are often sources of deep personal meaning and pride. This insight informs both our plans to further develop and sustain the national collaborative networks mentioned above, and also the major capital programmes, which have inclusive, welcoming spaces at their heart.

In a number of ways, the world is a more unstable and unpredictable place than it was when we published Living Knowledge, with economic turmoil, international conflict and the pandemic all posing sudden and extreme challenges to our society and our world. Great national libraries have a responsibility to act as beacons – to their users and their peers alike – and Knowledge Matters recommits us to international engagement, and the maintenance, wherever possible, of cultural dialogue, exchange and collaboration.

All of these changes are of course taking place against the backdrop of the global climate emergency and it’s right, therefore, that we’re prioritising sustainability in its broadest senses over the coming seven years and into the future. Not only does this apply to our own buildings, processes and carbon footprint, but also to the role that libraries can play in offering a trustworthy and accessible source of verified information – which will of course be essential in addressing this huge societal challenge.


Major themes to guide us to 2030

Our overarching mission remains the same: to make our intellectual heritage accessible to everyone, for research, inspiration and enjoyment. Having studied the above trends over the past 18 months, we have identified a set of key priorities that will apply across all of our purposes – whether these relate to Custodianship, Research, Business, Culture, Learning or International. Together they will shape what we deliver and how we will work in the future.

  • Access, engagement and inclusion – ensuring that the services we offer, and the collections we hold, are truly ‘for everyone’.
  • Modernising our library services - Investing in skills, processes, systems and capabilities to deliver the quality of library services our users deserve.
  • Deepening our partnerships – collaborating with libraries and memory institutions of all kinds across the UK and around the world, to achieve more than we ever could by ourselves.
  • Sustainability and resilience: - reducing our carbon impact and collaborating with partners to create a more sustainable future.
  • New spaces, North and South – in Yorkshire and in London, delivering new, world-class physical spaces designed to welcome future generations of visitors and users.

Custodianship 2

Our Knowledge Matters strategy (PDF) contains more detail across all of these themes, and how they specifically apply to our services, our sites, our staff and our users. We are delighted to be able to share with you the next chapter of our journey as the national library, and look forward to discussing it further as we roll it out over the coming months.

If the past five decades of the Library’s development have taught us anything, it is the enduring value of having a vision – combined with planning, expertise, creativity and collaboration. Although the challenges may be considerable, if we can stay true to those principles and build on the work of our predecessors, we can face the next fifty years with confidence and optimism.

Roly Keating

Chief Executive, British Library


06 April 2023

Everything Forever – marking 10 years of digital legal deposit

This month we are celebrating 10 years since a change in law, which made possible the preservation of published digital communications in the UK. Since April 2013, the British Library, as one of six legal deposit libraries for the UK, has been building a huge collection of newly published digital books, journal articles, archived web and other types of publication, many of which would otherwise have been at risk of loss. These are available for research and inspiration at the British Library, and other legal deposit library sites across the UK and Ireland.


Our collecting of ‘born digital’ UK publications is the newest part of our legal deposit mandate to collect as comprehensively as we can, and represent the breadth of experience, culture, society, science and politics in the UK. Legal deposit has existed for nearly 400 years, and is a responsibility on publishers in the UK and Ireland to make sure that copies of their publications are available at the British Library and the five other legal deposit libraries for the UK.

These libraries are the National Library of Scotland, National Library of Wales, Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford, Cambridge University Library and the Library of Trinity College Dublin. The long history and inclusive aim of legal deposit means that you are able to access a huge and detailed collection of publications on all aspects of life from across the UK. For example, local newspapers (many of which are now available from our British Newspaper Archive); maps that can be used to research our changing landscapes; information about businesses; and government and official publications that document in detail social change and the growth of government and law. Legal deposit is a huge collaborative undertaking between the libraries. It relies on close relationships with publishers.

Collecting born digital publications

The change in law, which came into effect on 6 April 2013, meant that digital publications could also be collected under legal deposit. For many years previously, we had emphasised the preservation risks, especially for material that exists only in digital form. We were also aware of the great value of collecting and making available born digital publications. For example, it will not be possible to study the 21st century without reference to communications that took place on the web.

Collecting, and making available, digital publications at a scale required by legal deposit, is a huge challenge. Working in close partnership, the six legal deposit libraries have had to develop whole new systems to identify, collect, preserve, describe and make available digital journal articles, books, maps, sheet music and official publications. This change has involved the creation of new types of collection, for example the UK Web Archive, or our experimental work in collecting new types of digital publication that are designed for mobile technology or user interaction.

In making this transformation, we have worked with publishers, their representatives and also other organisations working in book and journal distribution. This has been important as standardisation, for example of metadata and the structure of files for deposit, has a very big impact on whether and how far we can ensure that our processes work at the very large scale that they need to.


A vast and rich resource

We have achieved a lot over the past 10 years. Under digital legal deposit, we have collected more than 10 million journal articles and nearly 800,000 books. We make available 3 TB of digital mapping, including annual snapshots of Ordnance Survey large-scale mapping of Britain. The UK Web Archive is now one of the largest parts of our collection, containing millions of websites, billions of files and 1.3 PB (petabytes) of data. All this information is available to access at legal deposit libraries, and is preserved across the legal deposit library network.

These achievements matter because the web and other digital publications are often at risk of rapid change or loss. The digital archive that we are building holds in many cases the only surviving copy of millions of pages of digital content. These relate to events and subjects of great interest to current and future researchers. For example, our event-based collections in the UK Web Archive include general elections and referenda, international sporting events, and public health communication during the pandemic. These are available for use by researchers now and will be preserved for the future.

Over the past ten years, we have been able to learn more about the challenges of managing digital publications at this scale, and this includes access to publications. The law that requires deposit of digital publications also describes the terms under which those publications may be accessed.

This is important for enabling use in a way that reassures publishers of our commitment to protecting intellectual property. However, restrictions on access can be unexpected for readers and sometimes don’t take into account the ways in which authors and publishers intended their work to be shared (for example, using Open Access). Issues relating to access were a focus of Digital Library Futures, an important research project, led by the University of East Anglia, into the impacts of digital legal deposit on libraries and researchers.       

The changing landscape

At the same time, we have experienced radical changes in technology that have impacted on many areas of publishing and publisher behaviour. The publishing ecology in the UK and Ireland is rich and varied. It includes some of the best known and loved publishers in the world, and extends through a very ‘long tail’ of independent and self publishing.

Print on demand, crowdfunding platforms and a breath-taking number of book, zine and comics fairs across the UK and Ireland mean that the challenge of finding out about publications has become much more complex. Also, writers and artists are using technology in creative and innovative ways, making beautiful and engaging new publications that we need to learn how to collect and preserve. We will be showing some of these in our Digital Storytelling exhibition, opening on 2 June 2023.

A new framework for collecting

An anniversary is a time for celebration and for reflection. For our 10th anniversary year, we have reviewed our priorities and values for how we develop legal deposit. These have recently been published in our Framework for Legal Deposit. This will shape our activity to 2030, and restates our commitments to sustainability, preservation and putting users at the heart of our planning around access.

We know that we have more work to do in improving the experience of using digital legal deposit, including our support for Open Access and for accessibility. We also know that we need to ensure that our collecting reflects the diversity of publishing, and voices represented, across the UK. This includes works published in new formats. We are able to reflect on how print and digital publishing is interconnected, and that authors, publishers and readers all make positive choices about the formats in which ideas are communicated.

Meeting these needs in a way that is realistic about the resources we have, and responsible about long term sustainability, is a challenge. Our partnership across the six legal deposit libraries, and the relationship that we have with publishers, are an important part of meeting that challenge.    

Ian Cooke

Head of Contemporary British and Irish Published Collections


20 February 2023

Our exhibitions are delighting people around the UK

Some of our favourite exhibitions, past and present, can be found in different locations throughout the country.

Displays leading on from Chinese and British, an exhibition currently running here in St Pancras, can be seen in our partner libraries across the UK. Marvellous and Mischievous: Literature's Young Rebels has recently come to York Art Gallery, and Paddington: the Story of a Bear will be appearing in a new location later this year.


Chinese and British

Chinese and British Web images 1200px x 628px

© Henry W and Albert A Berg Collection of English and American Literature, The New York Public Library.

Chinese communities have been calling the UK home for much longer than many realise. Tracing their heritage back to regions in East and South-East Asia, they’ve established a rich and diverse culture across the UK.

Chinese and British is currently at our partner libraries across the country, taking its lead from our current exhibition here at St Pancras. Reflect on this long history through photographs, manuscripts and interviews with those who have lived through it. Head to one of our partner libraries to see these bespoke displays augmented with local collections, stories and events.

Find out more.


Marvellous and Mischievous: Literature's Young Rebels

Zog Princess Pearl and Sir Gadabout723px415px

Zog © Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, 2010

Anyone can be a rebel, whether they are standing up for their beliefs, saving the planet or battling against the odds. See how characters from Pippi Longstocking to Princess Pearl break rules and defy conventions to make the world a better place for others.

Marvellous and Mischievous was originally opened here in St Pancras in 2019, and has since been touring around the country. After visiting Devon and Suffolk last year, the exhibition’s latest stop is at the York Art Gallery, where it will stay until June.

Showcasing around 40 books, manuscripts and original artwork, this family-friendly exhibition includes a diverse range of rebels, outsiders and spirited survivors from children’s literature spanning more than 300 years, inviting visitors to rediscover their favourite characters, as well as meeting new ones.

Find out more.


Paddington: the Story of a Bear

His heart-warming exploits and kind and caring nature have made Paddington one of the world’s most loved bears since his first appearance on the pages of A Bear Called Paddington. More than 60 years on, his stories still delight people of all ages around the world.

The exhibition will be hosted somewhere new this summer after journeying to Hitchin and Carlisle last year, originally appearing at the Library in 2021. Keep an eye out for the announcement soon! Fans, both big and small, can once again join Paddington as he sets off on a new adventure.