Living Knowledge blog

09 January 2015

The idea of the Library


What will the British Library be like in the future and what will people want from a national library into the third decade of the 21st century?  These are the questions we have been asking as we develop our new vision, which will be published on Monday 12 January at

View of people researching at the British Library. Photo by Tony Antoniou
View of people researching at the British Library. Photo by Tony Antoniou

Living Knowledge sets out the British Library’s vision for our future development as we look ahead to 2023, our fiftieth anniversary as the national library of the United Kingdom.  By 2023 we want to be seen as the most open, creative and innovative knowledge institution in the world.

As Head of Strategy Development in the Library, I’m struck by the incredible breadth and depth of the collections we maintain. We hold some of the world’s most unique and precious written and oral artefacts, but also develop living collections of print, digital and media, which grow by 0.8 kilometres and 6.8 terabytes every month.

The Library's collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation. Our collections include books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, photographs, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. Up to 10 million people visit the British Library website - - every year, where they can view up to four million digitised collection items and over 40 million pages. 

Over the past year we’ve taken a close look at our vision and values, drawing on the expertise of our staff and the British Library Board as well as our own assessment of external opportunities and threats. Living Knowledge provides an overarching vision – the next stage will be to develop more immediate strategic and tactical approaches to achieving these goals.

Living Knowledge updates our 2020 Vision and 2011-15 strategy, both published towards the beginning of this decade. These anticipated rapid technological changes, an increase in the number of ways users can access information digitally and a growing trend towards collaboration. In 2010 we were also aware that knowledge institutions would increasingly need to use technology to demonstrate economic value and support efficiency. Our Annual Reports provide more detail of how we have responded to these drivers for change in previous years. 

Importantly, several additional issues and challenges have influenced Living Knowledge. These include: 

  • The important role of libraries within the data revolution and as trusted sources of advice in a complex digital landscape
  • Ensuring that publicly-funded institutions are accessible to everyone across the UK, whatever their location or background
  • The role of culture and creativity as drivers of economic growth and wellbeing
  • The fact that physical spaces still play an important role in research and culture, even when more content is available online
  • The imperative to address a preservation crisis for the nation’s sound collections, which are under threat, both from physical degradation and as the means of playing them disappear from production.

The core purposes we have set ourselves for the next eight years will ensure that we continue to serve our existing audiences as well as reaching new ones. The scale and diversity of our collections are genuinely awe-inspiring, but so too is our overall mission to make our intellectual heritage available to everyone for research, inspiration and enjoyment.

The British Library’s Chief Executive, Roly Keating, will launch Living Knowledge with a speech at 19.00 on Monday 12 January.  You can follow the livestream of this here: and join the debate using the hashtag #livingknowledge.

Liz White

Head of Strategy Development



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