Living Knowledge blog

3 posts from March 2021

29 March 2021

Behind the scenes at the British Library: Amber Perrier, Community Engagement Officer

In our monthly blog series we go behind the scenes at the Library to introduce you to our people and the many ways they work to bring our collection to everyone. Today we meet Amber Perrier, Community Engagement Officer.

Amber Perrier image

I work with our local St Pancras community, especially often overlooked groups. It’s grass roots engagement connecting us with our neighbours.”

Tell us about your role?

Amber is our Community Engagement Officer, tasked with engaging our hyper-local community with the British Library in St Pancras, London. Her ‘patch’ includes Somers Town, King’s Cross, Bloomsbury, the Regents Park Estate and other parts of the London Borough of Camden.

She organises ‘show and tell’ displays and tours with curators and represents us at local festivals as such as the Somers Town Festival, Camden Bangladesh Mela and Hillview Festival.

Amber at workAmber setting up the community stall at the Hillview festival with dolly pegs created by local organisations from Somers Town.

She works closely with our Welcome Team and Events and Learning Teams to encourage local families to use the British Library, helping adults register for reader passes and connecting local entrepreneurs with our Business and IP Centre.

Amber at work show and tellAn Ethiopian collection show and tell with members of the local St Pancras community, organised by Amber. 

Her outreach activity also involves popping into Somali and Bangladeshi community centres to chat to people about our services and local projects such as St Pancras Transformed which may have an impact on residents.

One of my favourite projects is The Story Garden, it’s a community garden and is open to everyone. As well as growing crops, we’ve run therapeutic arts and crafts events in the polytunnels, and provided a make space for St Martin’s students.

Story Garden

The Story Garden (2019)

How did you get into this field?

Amber joined us four years ago on a placement under the Culture& traineeship programme, which aims to increase workforce diversity in the heritage sector. During her one-year traineeship she shadowed Library colleagues in Conservation, Basements and the Asian and African Collections and paid reciprocal visits to her cohort at the British Museum and the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery.

At the end of the programme, she had gained a QCF Level 3 qualification in Cultural Heritage and secured a permanent role as a Community Engagement Assistant at the Library – and since been promoted to an Officer position.

I’d already established relationships with the local community and it was good to continue building these bridges.”

Prior to joining the Library, Amber studied Fine Art at the University of East London and volunteered with community arts organisation Rosetta Arts in Newham.

How has Covid-19 changed the way you work?

With all in-person community engagement activities suspended in 2020-21, Amber has worked hard to keep in touch virtually with local groups.

“I’ve supported webinar presentations and online consultations and have shared job opportunities and events via social media. I’ve also been involved with signposting community organisations’ support services such as food banks as the pandemic hit some local community groups hard.”

What do you love about the Library?

Amber’s job involves meeting lots of people, both staff and local residents. She has been impressed by the hidden skills and interests of the people she meets and has enjoyed chatting to people about her art.

“As an artist I love spending my lunchbreak sketching in the Piazza and chilling out in the Poet’s Circle.”

She was commissioned to design the Somers Town Big Local tote bag off the back of winning a Notting Hill Carnival T-shirt design competition.

Somers Town Big Loal illustration by Amber

Commission for Somers Town tote, illustration by Amber Perrier.  

Notting Hill Carnival t-shirt 2019 illustration

Amber's Notting Hill Carnival T-shirt competition-winning design 

What’s your favourite object in the collection?

Amber’s first ‘show and tell’ featured items from our Ethiopian Collections and she became infatuated with the colours and gold in the manuscripts. A particular favourite is Nagara Māryām / History of Mary featured in this blog.

Ethiopian collection item

Nagara Māryām / History of Mary, Ethiopia, 18th century. Or 607, f 17r

“I also love looking at the old mags from Newham where I grew up in the East End.”

Any insider tips about the St Pancras area?

Amber normally spends a lot of time out and about in St Pancras meeting local groups. She recommends visiting The Story Garden, a temporary garden shaped by and for the local community and developed in response to feedback on our transformation plans for the Library.

“It’s very therapeutic and you can take the time out to enjoy the botanical atmosphere.”

Any book recommendations for our readers?

Amber recommends All on the Board written by two TFL underground employees. They started creating their famous quote boards anonymously as a side hustle to their day job as station support staff.

“I’ve been dipping in and out of it during lockdown and it’s been a great pick-me-up. It really lifts my spirits!”


Follow our Community Engagement team on Twitter
Follow Amber on Twitter
Follow Amber on Instagram

22 March 2021

Meet the Maker: Circular&Co.

In this monthly Meet the Maker blog series we meet some of the independent creative businesses behind some of our product ranges in the British Library Shop (both online and at our St Pancras, London site). This week we meet Dan Dicker, the man behind Circular Cup, the world’s first reusable cup made from recycled single-use coffee cups.

Circular Cup2

Founded by former Dyson inventor Dan Dicker in 2003, Circular&Co. are an award-winning circular design practice perched on the north coast of Cornwall in the UK. We are proud to sell their reusable cup range, made from recycled single-use coffee cups, in the British Library Shop.

Circular Cup3

Founder and CEO, Dan, began his career as a product designer at Dyson. He created Circular&Co. with a mission to make circular products (essentially products that help reduce waste and consumption of natural resources) accessible for everyone. Their Circular Cup is the latest in a series of innovative and ground-breaking products that reuse waste and increase the value of materials that were once destined for landfill.

Our product range is unique, not just because of their innovative functional design qualities, but because we look to address how they are made, used and reused at end of their useful life.” Dan Dicker, Founder and CEO of Circular&Co.

Dan has been pioneering the Circular Design Movement for 18 years. Circular Design is based on the principle of designing out waste, keeping products and materials in use and regenerating natural systems. In Dan’s words: “nothing is truly recycled until it is reused.”

Circular Cup5

We have been selling Circular Cups in the British Library Shop since April 2019 after our buyer, Charlie Wainwright, spotted the products at a trade show.

We had been looking for a reusable cup to add to our range, and I loved the fact these ones are made from recycled disposable coffee cups.” Charlie Wainwright, British Library Buyer

The cups provide a practical opportunity for consumers to engage with the subject of waste and recycling through a familiar household item.

The painful and frustrating truth is that we are very close to running out of key global resources and the misuse of these resources has led to pollution. We passionately believe that Circular Design provides a real chance for practical change at a time when the world desperately needs solutions.” Dan Dicker

The Library recognises that its activities impact on the environment at local, regional and global levels through the resources we consume and the waste we produce. As an organisation we are committed to continuous improvements in sustainability and proud to stock such an innovative product from an independent business proactively working not only to reduce but also reuse waste.

Circular Cup4

Dan’s advice for anyone starting out with their own small business?

Creativity and resilience, with those you can achieve anything.” 


Browse our Circular & Co range
Visit the Circular & Co website
Follow Circular & Co on Instagram

10 March 2021

Towards an action plan on anti-racism

British-library-aerial-shot 2-smaller
In July 2020, the British Library committed to create and implement an approved anti-racism action plan, sponsored by our Chief Librarian, Liz Jolly.

The purpose of this blog is to update you: our users, readers, visitors, partners and online audiences, on how we are putting this commitment into practice.

Reflecting on the events of the summer of 2020, our Chief Executive, Roly Keating, said: “There have been incremental changes over the years, but this is a wake-up call for the Library’s leadership that it’s not enough. Our duty at this moment is to show humility, to listen, to learn and then to enact change”.

As co-chairs of the Anti-Racism Project – the group set up to produce the action plan – we are leading a piece of practical project work which we have taken care to ensure all colleagues across our two sites (in St Pancras, London and Boston Spa, West Yorkshire) have an ongoing opportunity to take part in. 

Structure of the Anti-Racism Project – involving our people

The term “anti-racism” is becoming more and more prevalent in conversations around tackling prejudice and inequality. We acknowledge that it can mean different things to different people, and we're still working out what exactly anti-racism means for the British Library, as we work towards producing an action plan.

But what we do know is that this work must improve the experience of all those who work at, use and enjoy the British Library. From the beginning we knew that to really achieve this, the anti-racism project had to take a “grassroots” approach, including the broadest possible range of experience and perspectives from across the whole of our diverse workforce.

Currently, there are approximately 90 colleagues involved, representing the sheer diversity of a national library. Colleagues in our People Team trained in HR practices, curators looking after our collections, conservators, Board Members, representatives from our BAME Staff Network and those in visitor-facing roles who engage with our users and audiences every day: these are just some of the perspectives informing the work we are doing to understand where we are and produce recommendations for positive and meaningful change for everyone.

It has taken us some months to structure this valuable cohort of enthusiasm and expertise into a properly governed structure. Working to established project management principles, the project contains a number of working subgroups, which will explore areas such as people and HR policies, collections and content, audiences, cataloguing, and values - all driven by evidence-based research steered by data and insight.  

As co-chairs, it’s our job to ensure that the project is a safe space for everyone involved - a forum which values all perspectives and experience equally. This ethos is important to us because it allows colleagues from different areas and levels of seniority to come together with openness and honesty, sparking new connections in a way that doesn’t always happen in the regular day to day work of the Library - especially during this time of working from home.

What’s next – learning our way towards change

Now that the project structure is in place, the real work is beginning. Our subgroups have begun an active phase of research and analysis towards understanding our current performance on a whole range of areas through the lens of anti-racism. These include:

  • How well we’re engaging with Black audiences through our cultural programme
  • The stories we choose to amplify through our collections and digital channels
  • Ethnic diversity in management roles and in our Senior Leadership Team 
  • Improving the experience of our physical spaces through thoughtful and balanced interpretations of the Library’s history based on Historic England’s principle of “retain and explain”
  • Looking at metadata attached to collection material acquired or catalogued during a time of colonialism and empire

The scope of what we’ll be looking at is by no means limited to the aspects above. Rather, it will be extremely wide-ranging, in line with our duties as a national and legal deposit library, as well our Living Knowledge: For Everyone strategy. It will involve conversations with different colleagues and teams across our workforce as well as with our peer organisations and, eventually, you, our audiences, to learn from others and understand how we can do better.

Following this research phase, the anti-racism project will come together and develop a set of recommendations for improvement. Once approved, these recommendations will become the basis of the British Library’s Anti-Racism Action Plan, which we look forward to sharing with you.

Our senior management team have marked out a period of three years to implement the Action Plan and of course, those years will require us to outgrow the project-style structure we’re currently working in. Everyone who works at and enjoys the Library will have a role to play in helping us on our journey towards positive change on anti-racism, and ultimately, towards becoming a national library that is truly, and consciously, for everyone.

Hugh Brown and T. Rajukumar

Co-Chairs of the Anti-Racism Project at the British Library