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.
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.
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.
Chief Executive, British Library