Knowledge Matters blog

Behind the scenes at the British Library

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 [email protected]