Knowledge Matters blog

Behind the scenes at the British Library

30 November 2020

Enabling access for everyone: the British Library’s content strategy 2020-2023

A montage showing people at an issue desk, a man using a tablet device, readers at desks in a Reading Room, and people using computers.

Today we publish Enabling access for everyone, a new document that sets out the British Library’s strategy for contemporary published content for the period 2020-2023.

Legal Deposit – the regulations that enable the Library collect a copy of every UK print and digital publication – remains the foundation of our collection-building activity. This content strategy focuses on the active collecting we do above and beyond Legal Deposit, in relation to contemporary published content. Heritage Acquisitions are governed separately, by our Heritage Acquisitions Policy.

The content strategy published today sets out how we will continue to build the national collection of contemporary published content, which we define as printed and digital content published from 1945 onwards.

Our priority is to provide access to content using the most cost effective means to help everyone access the information they need, now and in the future.

The strategy determines:

  • What contemporary published content we collect or connect to, why and for whom.
  • How that content is acquired and stored or how it is linked to.
  • How that content is made available to everyone, in the short and long term.

We want to ensure we are collecting and providing access to content that’s needed by all our users, including academics, businesses, policymakers and the public. Our strategy provides transparency by explaining the thinking behind what we acquire, and the principles that will inform the choices we make in future.

A lot has changed in the seven years since the last content strategy was published, and we need to respond to changes in technology, publishing and user behaviour. In particular, we need to provide remote access to more content so that our users – both individuals and organisations who use On Demand, our document supply service – can keep working, wherever they are. The recent lockdowns resulting from the pandemic have made this dimension more urgent than ever.

We’re realistic about what we can achieve in the current environment, and it’s not achievable, affordable or appropriate for us to collect everything.  With the exception of Legal Deposit, which remains the foundation of our collection-building activity, we do not aim to collect comprehensively. There are many other libraries and organisations that collect, store and preserve information, much of it available online. We work in the context of this global network, which is why our 2013 content strategy included the principle that connecting to content would become more important. This principle continues.

Our content strategy is expressed in summary form as guiding principles, which guide our decision-making. We’ve also developed overarching priorities, subject priorities, and areas of focus for each collection area. You can find out more about these in the content strategy document.

The strategy is about enabling access for everyone to the information they need – whatever their background, characteristics or location. Through it, we aim to generate more public value for individuals, organisations, business and wider society, and to support the research infrastructure of the UK in this time of national recovery and renewal and beyond.

See more information and the summary and full content strategy documents.

Liz Jolly, Chief Librarian, and Sally Halper, Head of Content Strategy & Services