Living Knowledge blog

3 posts from June 2018

29 June 2018

Celebrating the British Library at St Pancras


This week the Library celebrated 20 years since its St Pancras building was officially opened by Her Majesty the Queen on 25 June 1998.

We marked the anniversary by asking our users to share their #LibraryMemories on Twitter and with a celebratory event on Monday evening, where Chief Executive Roly Keating delivered a keynote speech, Building the Future: 20 Years of the Library at St Pancras to an audience of 130 funders, patrons, policy makers and supporters of the Library. A video clip shared via social media celebrated the vast range of different users of the Library (sound recommended!).

Roly's keynote speech was livestreamed via Facebook and live-tweeted through our Twitter feed. The full speech – reflecting on the Library’s development over the past two decades, and looking ahead to our exciting Living Knowledge vision – will be available shortly on our YouTube page.

In the meantime you can also watch this updated video (below) on our vision for St Pancras, which was also screened on Monday. 

Designed by architect Sir Colin St John Wilson, the British Library was the largest UK public building to be built in the 20th century, and achieved Grade I listing status from Historic England in 2015.

Today our iconic London site is used by over 1.5 million people each year and is much-loved as a space for research, inspiration and enjoyment.

Key milestones in the past two decades have included the widening of access to Reading Rooms, the opening of the Business & IP Centre (BIPC) in 2006, the opening of a new Learning Centre in 2010, the Newsroom Reading Room in 2014, the transformation in use of our public areas and the opening of the Alan Turing Institute for data science and artificial intelligence in 2015.

“This anniversary is the perfect opportunity to reflect on what an extraordinary building this is – visionary, utterly unique, inspiring to work in and to visit – and to celebrate the achievement of those who worked so hard to create it,” Roly observed. “As Colin St John Wilson said, ‘it is the essence of the Library to grow’, and we will continue to develop his legacy, evolving the Library’s St Pancras site into one of the world’s greatest 21st century centres of knowledge, meeting the future needs of our users, supporters, the local community and our partners.”

StP20-audienceA special event at St Pancras marked the 20th anniversary of the official opening of the building. Roly Keating (top) delivered the keynote speech and the audience included funders, patrons, policy makers and supporters of the Library (above). Photos by Jean-Philippe Calvin. 

Over the past 20 years the Library’s cultural programme has gone from strength to strength, with blockbuster exhibitions such as Sacred Texts, Magnificent Maps, Magna Carta and Harry Potter: A History of Magic, and a greatly expanded events programme including music, talks and festivals from the world’s leading writers, novelists, performers and thinkers.

Since the building opened, the surrounding neighbourhood of St Pancras and Kings Cross has also undergone a huge transformation, with the opening of the Eurostar terminal at St Pancras and the ongoing redevelopment of King’s Cross.  The British Library was a co-founder in 2014 of the dynamic and successful Knowledge Quarter partnership, which now includes over 90 knowledge, creative and research organisations all within a mile’s radius of St Pancras. The British Library has expanded its community engagement programme in recent years, working with local community groups, organisations and individuals to develop collaborative projects.

Last year the Library selected a joint venture led by Stanhope plc, working with architects Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (RSHP), as its preferred partner to develop a 2.8 acre site at the northern end of its estate.  Plans currently in development will create new spaces for learning programmes, exhibitions, business and enterprise, as well as a new headquarters for the Alan Turing Institute. The new development will ensure that the Library continues to play a vital infrastructural role in UK research and innovation.

You can find more details about our plans – as well as the just-published second edition of our Building the Future brochure – on the Building the Future web page.

Miki Lentin

Head of Corporate Affairs


28 June 2018

Parting words from our Chief Librarian

Caroline Brazier. Photo by Sophia Chrisafis

Caroline Brazier is the Chief Librarian at the British Library. She was recently awarded a CBE in Her Majesty The Queen’s 2018 Birthday Honours in recognition of her services to librarianship over a 35-year career.

After 16 years here, Caroline will be retiring at the end of the month. We caught up with her to find out more about her highlights here, her insights on libraries and her hopes for the British Library.

How did you come to be Chief Librarian at the British Library?

I’ve worked in libraries my entire career. For me, the Chief Librarian’s role has been a culmination of the many different types of library roles and responsibilities I’ve held. I always say it’s the best library job in the country, if not in the world.

I joined the British Library in 2002 as the Head of Collection Acquisitions and Description, spending the first eight years here in our Boston Spa site, in Yorkshire, working in a variety of different roles. Then in 2011 I moved to St Pancras as the Director of Scholarship and Collections which was later expanded into the new role of Chief Librarian in 2016.

As Chief Librarian, what do you do?

I look after the functions, the roles and the responsibilities that relate to our core library services and functions. That would be everything to do with the collection and the people who manage it– for example the curatorial departments and collection management – and also the strategy and the development of many of our services.

The British Library is part of both a national and international library infrastructure so I also work with other academic libraries, research libraries, public libraries and other national libraries around the world.

NPLDCaroline Brazier (top image by Sophia Chrisafis) considers the passing of digital legal deposit to be one of the highlights of her career at the Library. After a decade of discussions, regulations enabling the collection of non-print materials (above) were passed in 2013.

What have been some of your highlights here?

The introduction of getting the right to collect digital legal deposit – it represents a seismic shift in what we can do to collect and develop the national memory and will shape the future of this organisation for decades and centuries to come.

The Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003 was passed shortly after I joined and I’ve represented the Library in quite a lot of legal deposit discussions over the last ten years. We were able to start collecting digital legal deposit in 2013 and a five-year review has just been completed. In a way, digital legal deposit feels like it bookends my career here.

The other amazing thing I’ve seen is the growth of our learning programme from a tiny base to a phenomenal and high quality service. Our online learning resources also form a very important channel as the website gives us unlimited potential to reach out to people in a new way. And that applies to research audiences as well as to learning audiences. We’re looking at Heritage Made Digital, a major development that will make sure that our heritage research content will be discoverable, searchable and usable by people around the globe rather than just by people who can travel to our Reading Rooms.

What is your favourite library memory?

It’s the people and the community I’ve worked with through the years. At the moment I’m looking at my email archives and coming across messages from people who left maybe 10 or 15 years ago. I’m reminded of the great people I’ve worked with and the generations of people who’ve passed through this place and have been so dedicated to the Library.

Any ‘wow’ moments when encountering collection items?

Seeing Jane Austen’s handwriting was probably my most ‘wow’ moment. I’ve been reading her work since I was 14 and I’ve just always loved the stories. Knowing that there’s so little left of her own writing, when you actually see something in her hand, you feel you’re in the presence of something really special and you just go ‘Wow, that’s Jane Austen’.

Jane Austen 'VOLUME THE THIRD' notebook containing Evelyn and Catharine  or the Bower  6 May 1792-19 Aug 1809 (Add MS 65381)Jane Austen manuscript notebook from 6 May 1792-19 Aug 1809 (Add MS 65381) - one of the 'wow factors' of working at the Library.

Another moment was when the Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination exhibition opened. I remember going into the gallery and experiencing this amazing vista of some of the most beautiful objects I think I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s a reminder that in this collection we have some amazingly beautiful items and also historically incredibly important ones too, and that we have the obligation to preserve and to protect the collection so that people will also have those experiences 100 years or 200 years from now.

What would you like your legacy to be?

As a memory institution, we have to make sure that the collection grows and develops in a way that not only meets the needs of today’s generations, but of future generations.

What I hope I’ve left behind are groups of people who are clear about how we should be building the collection, both in terms of what we collect, but also how we collect it. It’s not just enough to have the collection – you have to make sure that people can find out what you have and how to access it. A strategy for developing both the collection and the services that go with them. That’s ultimately what I’ve been here for.

Royal-MSS-exbn"Some of the most beautiful objects I think I’ve ever seen in my life" the Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination exhibition. Photo by Tony Antoniou.

Why do you think libraries matter?

Libraries are an important part of our democracy, an important part of our social fabric. Libraries are the way to ensure that people who would otherwise be information poor have equal access to information. We all need information to have happy, successful lives – it could be information that’s life changing or what time the next bus is. For people to be empowered they need information and I think that to me is why libraries matter.

What are the biggest challenges facing libraries today?

You hear people asking: are libraries even relevant anymore because surely everyone can get everything they need from the Internet?

Libraries provide their users with the staff and people with the skills and knowledge to help them navigate the world of information. As the way people get information changes and shifts, libraries need to remain visible and trusted. There’s a marketing job for libraries to do to make sure people see them as neutral, that the services provided are high quality and that there’s an ethical underpinning to our work which means that people can trust libraries.

What’s next for you?

I’m looking forward to being on the other side of the desk, becoming a Library user and using libraries and collections, rather than having to manage them. And having time to pursue personal research, interests and hobbies. Perhaps write a book!

What will you miss the most?

The people, the friendships and the camaraderie. I will miss the fun of coming into work every day. I’ll miss the jokes and the tea breaks and I’ll miss the corridor conversations. I will miss being part of a community.

Thank you Caroline for sharing your highlights and insights. We will miss you too.

Shimei Zhou

Content and Community Team


21 June 2018

What we talk about when we talk about a single digital presence

One of the many wonderful things about working at the British Library is the opportunity to spend my working day thinking about libraries and engaging with a wide range of other people to understand their experiences and insights.

Libraries, particularly public libraries, are an important part of many people’s lives.  Often people who are no longer regular users still talk about the powerful or even transformative impact a library had on them as a child. There’s growing evidence that this is not just true for individuals, but also for society as a whole in terms of how we understand both ourselves and the world around us. 

With this in mind, it’s exciting that the British Library is leading a scoping study to consider the feasibility of a “single digital presence” for UK public libraries

The Single Digital Presence project

Funded by Arts Council England and the Carnegie UK Trust and drawing on previous consultations and reports, the scope of this project is to consider options for what a national online platform for public libraries could look like, what it could be used for and how such an offer might fit in to the current ecosystem for libraries.  We expect to publish our recommendations in early 2019.

Over the next few months we’ll be conducting research across the UK to inform what this “single digital presence” might be.  We want to understand how a digital platform might inform future service design and how this can reflect the best of what public libraries can offer.  We intend to explore how this might promote public library use (including physical visits) as well as amplifying the impact and importance of libraries at local, national and international level.

As the British Library, we see our role here as convening a conversation across the public library sector and beyond, in line with our own mission to make our intellectual heritage available to everyone for research, inspiration and enjoyment. 

Single Digital Presence methodology and outputs

We’ll be looking at best practice in public service design and user research as well as exploring potential benefits for service delivery and user experience.  The scope of the research includes functional systems and transactional services as well as current and future ways in which people use libraries to connect to content and each other.

We don’t have a fixed view of what the final recommendations and next steps will be, but we want our approach to reflect the values of public libraries themselves: trusted, open, inclusive and representative of the diversity of the users we serve and the types of public libraries they visit and so we will be learning from a diverse range of users and non-users. 

Single Digital Presence and UK Libraries

We’ll be drawing on partnerships the British Library has already developed with the public library sector such as the Business & IP Centre  and Living Knowledge Networks as well as our statutory responsibility for the Public Lending Right, but also looking across the wider library system.  We’ll be working with library professionals, library users (and non-users), volunteers, publishers, suppliers, aggregators, professional bodies, local and central government as well as colleagues from adjacent sectors. 

We’ll be posting regular updates on this blog about how the research is going and ways you can get involved and in the meantime you can contact the project team at