Living Knowledge blog

4 posts from November 2020

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

16 November 2020

A timely take on food writing

A guest blog by Mallika Basu, food writer and commentator. Mallika leads our Food Writing online courses.

Food is love. While dinner parties with overflowing tables may temporarily be on hold, there is nothing to stop us passionate food lovers from whetting our appetites by spilling words onto a page. From odes to seasonal quince and much-needed mindful eating, to restoration of a kitchen dating back to the early 19th century, the British Library is giving us all a chance to get our tastes tingling about the basic ingredients of food writing filled with flavour. I’ve recently lead two perfectly plated food writing online courses for the Library, and begin to repeat the series again this December. It feels timely, for a number of reasons.

Comparative sizes of a swan's egg, turkey's egg, duck's egg, plover's egg

Food writing has evolved considerably since I started as a blogger fourteen years ago, as has my prose mercifully. Alongside my cookbooks and food columns, I have had a successful career in the communications industry. As an “ethnic” food writer who focuses on Indian cookery and putting spice cupboards to better use, running these courses is an incredible opportunity for me to address unconscious bias and cultural appropriation in a public forum with a responsible and engaged audience. I bring a unique perspective to these courses, rooting them in the here and now.

We have less time than ever. How we access information has been transformed by digital and social media. No longer is it acceptable to live in a vacuum of social awareness. The first course starts with this – the context within which food writing functions today. We then explore sound principles of writing and move on to food writing tips that make sure no reader is left with an unintended sour taste in their mouth.

Illustration of various cheeses

If it all sounds a bit earnest, I can assure you it is far from. In between the tips, we found plenty of time to chat about what inspires and moves us, share practical tips of our own and wax lyrical about cookbooks, food scientists, food memoirs and restaurant critics we love and hate. I roped in a small handful of my talented and well-established food writers to offer their own nuggets of advice, which ranged from the practical (stop procrastinating and just get writing) to the essential (please hold on to your sense of humour).

The practical part of the session gives us a chance to whip what we’ve learnt into action. I would tell you more, but I might give the finale away for the next course on 3 December.

In a sign of the times, it feels apt to deliver these courses online. After all, technology has allowed us to think beyond the realms of possibility. Who knew we would be cooking, eating and drinking wine with friends on video calls? If the feedback so far is anything to go by, it gives attendees more than a taste of how to be a better food writer.     

Cover of book by Mallika Basu called "Masala"

Mallika leads the Food Writing: The Basics course on 3 December. For more ways to feed your curious mind from whenever you are, stay up to date with our online courses programme.

05 November 2020

Digging up the secrets of Frances Hodgson Burnett

Secret Garden blog image 1
Frances Hodgson Burnett’s beloved family novel tells the story of an orphan girl sent to live in a mysterious house where she discovers something magical… The Secret Garden. Spanning over a century, we have a wealth of editions (including learning materials and ebook versions) of The Secret Garden in our collection, including the first edition published in 1911. Most recently, a new film adaptation of the children’s classic The Secret Garden, starring Julie Walters and Colin Firth, has just been released in the UK.

Frances Hodgson Burnett (1849-1924) was born in Manchester. After her father died when she was only four years old, her mother was left to run the family furniture store while raising five children. Manchester’s failing economy led the family to immigrate to Knoxville, USA in 1865 where Frances helped to support her family with income from the sale of her stories.

Secret Garden blog image 2

While she is best known for The Secret Garden, Hodgson Burnett also wrote for plays and novels for adults. Through archiving and digitising her work, we made an incredible discovery earlier this year. In the decade preceding her death, she wrote a series of semi-autobiographical articles for Good Housekeeping. One such article The Christmas in the Fog, published in 1915, was discovered tucked away in our archives.

The ghostly story recounts a foggy journey to New York and an encounter with a “shabby little boy”. You can read this fascinating story, along with other forgotten works by women writers in our new anthology Queens of the Abyss: Lost Stories from the Women of the Weird (available to order now).

Secret Garden image 3

Our ongoing digitisation work continues to unearth untold stories and helps us open up a world of inspiration and ideas for everyone. This Christmas you can help sow the seeds of future imaginations by adopting this or other classic books from our collection for just £40. Adopt The Secret Garden.