01 November 2021
Behind the scenes at the British Library: Caan Walls, Membership Manager
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. This month we meet Caan Walls, Membership Manager.
Tell me about your role?
Caan joined the British Library in the new role of Membership Manager in 2017. Caan’s remit was to set up our Membership scheme to bridge the gap between our Patrons’ programme and our free Reader Passes.
'It was unusual to find an organisation of this scale without an established membership scheme, so it was an exciting challenge for me.'
Initially he carried out lots of audience research to gauge interest and appetite for our potential Membership package. He also worked on welcoming the Friends of the British Library into the new scheme.
Following this research and planning phase, Caan successfully launched our Membership scheme, attracting over 10,000 members in the first two years.
'Our very first Member was Stephen Fry, and we’re proud to have singer Imogen Heap, author Tracy Chevalier and actor Chiwetel Ejiofor as Members.'
Now that the scheme is established, Caan, together with our Membership Co-ordinator Bobby Bonehill, looks after the day-to-day running of our Members’ Room, oversees Membership communications and marketing, answers any Member queries escalated from our Customer Services team and works closely with our Box Office to manage Member events and ticketing.
'Right now, I’m busy with planning how best to recruit new Members as the Library continues to resume onsite services.'
Why do people become Members?
For £80 a year, Members get a range of benefits such as free entry (for them and a friend) to our exhibitions, access to our daytime Members’ Room, priority booking for events and discounts in our restaurants, cafés and shops.
Around 30% of our members also hold Reader Passes and 30% join primarily for priority access to our exhibitions and cultural events.
'Our Members’ Room was voted best new members room by Time Out when it opened in 2017. It’s really popular, especially amongst authors and freelancers who come here to work.'
The income we earn from our Membership scheme plays a vital role in supporting the Library so we can care for our collection and preserve it for future generations.
'The scheme has already generated substantial unrestricted funds, of which 15% goes directly toward new acquisitions via the British Library Collections Trust. Membership is an amazing way for people who love the Library to demonstrate their support and has an enormous impact on what we’re able to do.'
How has Covid-19 changed the way you work?
We were not able to offer all our Member benefits during the last 18 months of lockdowns and closures and we have subsequently lost some of our Members.
'But many have said they are keen to renew their Membership as we re-open. We’re enormously grateful to those Members who have been in a position to continue supporting us during the closures.'
How did you get into this field?
After studying Psychology at university, Caan first worked in the gift shop and then in a fundraising and membership role at The Royal Pavilion and Museums, Brighton. Before joining the British Library, he was Membership Manager for Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew and he has also been Chair of the Membership Management Forum for the past three years.
What do you love about the Library?
Caan has always worked in the arts and culture sector and finds it an inspiring place to work. He believes that the Library’s mission to Library’s legal deposit mandate to keep a copy of every published book to be important.
Any book recommendations for our readers?
During lockdown Caan re-read the Lord of the Rings trilogy to escape into another world, but his favourite book is probably The Shadow of the Wind by Spanish novelist Carlos Ruiz Zafon.
'The author sadly died quite recently, and it reminded me to revisit it. I love his portrayal of 20th-century Barcelona.'
What’s your favourite object in our collection?
'It’s the earliest intact European book and was found in the coffin of St. Cuthbert!'