Living Knowledge blog

04 October 2021

Library Lives: Stella Wisdom, British Library St Pancras

‘Favourite fictional librarian? Batgirl!’

With over 1500 staff covering areas from security to events management, the British Library is a multi-professional team – and this includes, of course, librarians. Library Lives is our new series celebrating and profiling librarians across the British Library and the UK. And what better time to launch it than Libraries Week, the annual showcase of the best that libraries have to offer.

Today we meet Stella Wisdom, qualified librarian and Digital Curator in our Digital Scholarship team.

Where was your local library growing up?

Bedworth in Warwickshire.

Why did you want to become a librarian?

When I was at secondary school I did my work experience at Bedworth Library. They encouraged me to curate a part of the teenage section, and I did it on rock music and heavy metal: I put all these posters up and organised displays of CDs. I also organised a Beatrix Potter themed children’s event. I just had such an amazing time and couldn’t believe this was a job that I could do.

What does your current job involve?

That’s a very good question! I promote innovative and creative reuse, and also computational and data-driven research using the Library’s data and digital collections – both the digitised analogue collections and born-digital material.

Do you have a favourite item in the Library’s collection?

This is a difficult one, but I’m going to pick 80 Days by a small studio in Cambridge called inkle. It’s a retelling of Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days but it’s an interactive app. You read the story by going on different journeys as you go round the world, unlocking different parts of the journey narrative as you progress. Here at the Library we have been investigating complex digital publications, which we call emerging formats, and collecting 80 Days has been an experiment for us.

What's your favourite thing that you can do in a library?

For me, it’s to attend and to organise events. I love events in libraries, from game jams to Wikipedia edit-a-thons – even raves. We had an algorave at the British Library in 2019 and it was such a fun evening.

Where's your favourite library, or one you would most like to visit?

The library I’d most like to visit is the public library in Seattle. It’s a big glass building – it looks super impressive. And Seattle’s not too far away from Washington State University, Vancouver and they’ve got the Electronic Literature Lab there.

What do you think makes a good librarian?

Being adaptable and willing to change and learn, and helping others to learn.

If you weren't doing your current job, what would you be?

I’d like to be a lawyer – I’ve got quite interested in copyright and trademark law. I think that kind of attention to detail, looking up sources – there are some similar skills.

What one thing do you wish people knew about libraries or being a librarian that you suspect they don’t?

How much collecting of digital material we do. People may know we collect e-books and e-journals, but they may not be aware of the annual crawl of websites we do for the UK web archive, or the emerging formats collecting we’re doing.

How have things changed in libraries since you qualified?

When I did my Information and Library Studies degree at Aberystwyth in the late 90s, the World Wide Web was quite a new thing. I didn’t ever imagine that there would be roles like Digital Curators and departments like Digital Scholarship when I was studying to be a librarian.  

Tell us something about yourself that has nothing to do with your job

When I’m not being a librarian, I’m a volunteer roadie and driver for the UK goth band Inkubus Sukkubus.

Stella on tourStella photographed by Candia McKormack

Favourite fictional librarian

Batgirl! A superhero and a librarian. Very cool.

Can you give us a book recommendation?

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch. Modern urban fantasy set in London.

Interview by Ellen Morgan

We spoke to people who have professional registration status as a librarian via the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals or who have an academic qualification such as a first degree, a postgraduate diploma or a Master’s degree in library and information studies or librarianship.

Is this you? If you’d like to feature in Library Lives, get in touch with ellen.morgan@bl.uk

Would you like this to be you? Find out more about becoming a librarian on the CILIP website

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