Living Knowledge blog

6 posts from November 2021

09 November 2021

Light Night Leeds 2021

What links lanterns from Liverpool, new music from Newcastle, two owls and 26,000 people in Leeds?

It is, of course, the British Library and Light Night Leeds, the city’s annual free multi-arts and light festival. Over two nights in October, tens of thousands of people discovered a treasure trove of artworks inspired by the theme ‘Back to Nature’.

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Part of the Library’s Light Night Leeds 2021 installation. Photograph: Abbie Jennings.

This is the third year that the British Library has had a presence at Light Night, and following on from 2019’s dockside installation, and the online offering last year, the Library’s Nature at Night installation, in Park Square, was based around a collection of illuminated animal and plant lanterns created by The Lantern Company, including two new owl lanterns inspired by images in our collection.

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Light Night Leeds - British Library Owls - web files-6Two owl lanterns from our Light Night Leeds 2021 installation. Photographs: Abbie Jennings.

Jo Pocock, Artistic Director of Liverpool-based The Lantern Company, says the Nature at Night installation was ‘a celebration and reflection of the beauty and diversity of the natural world we have here in the UK. It holds up a magnifying glass to the complexity and interdependence of our life-sustaining eco-systems, and is a mixture of plants, insects, wildflowers and indigenous creatures.’

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General Reference Collection 74/462*.e.1. (The Birds of Great Britain. John Gould, 1804-1881. London, 1873 [1862-73]). Plate 31 Long eared owl illustration. Plate 28 Barn owl illustration – these plate numbers may vary volume to volume

‘We created two brand new owl lanterns inspired by images from the British Library’s wonderful natural world archives. We chose to depict a barn owl and a long eared owl, as these illustrations were particularly striking. Leeds also has a strong connection to owls and owl imagery is found in much of the architecture across the city, as well as the Leeds coat of arms.’

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The Lantern Company creating the owl lanterns

An accompanying sound piece was specially created by Newcastle-based composer Roma Yagnik. Her composition included over 100 tracks taken from our Environmental and Nature Sounds Archive, which holds more than 250,000 sounds.

‘This was such a dream opportunity - being given access to the sounds of nature from the Library collection allowed me to have a different approach to any I’ve used before and that in itself was very inspiring. A big part of this was listening through the range of field recordings whilst looking at the pictures of the lanterns as they were created by The Lantern Company, alongside illustrations of the owls provided by the Library, to find the characteristics and moods for the piece.’

The Littles excerpt Nature at Night

‘It’s wonderful when our wildlife recordings can be used in creative ways. Some of these sounds will have been recorded for documentary or scientific purposes and so it’s always exciting to see how they can be completely transformed by an artist. I’m so impressed with how Roma has taken the raw sounds and created such a beautiful and engaging piece.’ says Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife and Environmental Sounds

‘Light Night Leeds is such a huge and magical event to be part of,’ adds Roma. ‘I love that the British Library is making their collections available to the public in such creative ways.’

‘It’s exciting to be part of an event that attracts so many different people to come and enjoy art and culture,’ says Kenn Taylor, the Library’s Lead Cultural Producer based in Boston Spa. ‘With over 70% of the Library’s collection held at our Boston Spa site near Wetherby, it’s also a great opportunity for people in Yorkshire to engage with our collections.’

Enjoy our growing programme of workshops, exhibitions and events in Leeds and the surrounding area. Find out what’s coming up by visiting We’d love to see you soon.

03 November 2021

Libraries and a brighter climate future


Lydia Hiraide is a PhD student researching environmental politics at Goldsmiths, University of London. During her placement at the British Library she worked to understand the role of libraries in tackling climate change. To help find some answers, she collaborated with colleagues from London, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Wakefield and further afield with colleagues in Europe and Africa. Lydia presented her findings at the National Libraries Now conference in September and here’s a summary of what she found out:

For three months over the summer I worked as a PhD placement student at the British Library in their Public Policy team. My placement allowed me to see my work used far beyond the world of academic research and help shape conversations about how the Library can approach climate change.

Before stepping into my role, the Library had already made steps to taking more responsibility for its actions. By reducing carbon emissions by 26.4% over the last 10 years the Library has made a great start on its path to net zero. Now it has secured over £8 million through the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme and sustainability consultants to help reset its goals in light of the climate emergency. And with this progress the Library can now develop a roadmap to achieve its bigger ambitions.

But, beyond being responsible for their own emissions, what is the role of a national library in the climate conversation? The conversation around climate change can be overwhelming. It’s a collective problem with many nuances, and it throws up questions around social inequality, youth empowerment and changes in economies. So how can a library help navigate this fast-evolving world?

A trusted source of information

Reliable information is a key resource in tackling climate change. And how we verify and communicate it brings many challenges but, importantly, libraries can provide and validate information to anybody wishing to access it. It is intriguing to think about the different purposes this information can be used for. From informing public debate and helping small businesses to develop sustainable practices, to supporting scientific research which could help us find real-world solutions.

A network of change

My experience in the Public Policy team encouraged me to think about how such a large institution like the British Library can work collaboratively with a huge variety of partners to create real change. This autumn the Library hosted The Natural Word, a series of events created to inspire people into climate action with different voices contributing from communities on the front line of the climate emergency. You can catch up on these important conversations online on the British Library Player.

Just recently the Library worked in partnership with Blue Peter to launch the Our Planet Now competition to give a young person the amazing opportunity to share their poem or short story about taking climate action at the COP26 summit.  Their work will become part of this critical moment in history and will also be added to the Library’s collection, capturing a record of these important world events.  

A culture of reuse

Not only are libraries important for sharing information, but they are also safe and vibrant community spaces. Most libraries are built on a model of lending and borrowing, which means that they are already naturally sustainable. The British Library’s copies of fashion magazine Vogue have been accessed more than 6,000 times over the last 10 years alone!

It’s been exciting to learn about how libraries all over the country and the w orld are building on these models to create even deeper cultures of sustainability among their staff and audiences. I discovered a range of inspiring projects, including Libraries of Things, Seed Libraries, and the Wakefield Word Fest, all helping us to take those vital steps towards change.

We are working toward a brighter climate future. Find out more about our plans.

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.

Caan (002)Caan Walls

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.'

Image credit Tony AntiniouMembers’ Room © Tony Antoniou

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?

Caan likes our scientific pieces such as da Vinci’s notebook that was featured in our Leonardo da Vinci: A Mind in Motion exhibition.

Arundel_ms_263_f087rLeonardo da Vinci's notebook - Codex Arundel, c. 1478 – 1518

He also pays regular visits to our Treasures Gallery and particularly loves the St. Cuthbert Gospel.

'It’s the earliest intact European book and was found in the coffin of St. Cuthbert!'

St cuthberSt Cuthbert Gospel, early 8th century
British Library Shelfmark: Add MS 89000


Find out about becoming a British Library Member