Knowledge Matters blog

Behind the scenes at the British Library

02 February 2022

Behind the scenes at the British Library: Graham Jevon, Cataloguer for the Endangered Archives Programme

Go behind the scenes at the Library and meet our people and the many ways they work to bring our collection to everyone. This month it’s Graham Jevon, Cataloguer for the Endangered Archives Programme and researcher on the Library’s Agents of Enslavement project. 

Graham Jevon
Graham Jevon

Tell me about your role 

My normal day job is Cataloguer for the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP), which facilitates the digitisation of endangered archival material across the world. Since 2004 we have funded more than 400 projects in over 90 countries, from Argentinian photographs to Tibetan scroll painting, Arabic manuscripts, parish registers, Bengali cinema booklets, and 2000-year-old Libyan rock inscriptions, to name just a few.

The EAP1320 project team inspecting manuscripts in Kerala, India. 
The EAP1320 project team inspecting manuscripts in Kerala, India. 

The EAP1319 project team surveying manuscripts in Vat That Khao temple, Vientiane, Laos.
The EAP1319 project team surveying manuscripts in Vat That Khao temple, Vientiane, Laos.

At the end of each digitisation project we receive a hard drive containing all of the digital images to put online, and we also receive a spreadsheet containing information that describes these images. My role is to process all this data so that we can ensure that the collections are easy to navigate and understand. This means that my time is mainly spent creating, editing, moving, and analysing data. Lots of data. 

Currently, though, I am on research leave four days a week as one of the Library’s two Coleridge Fellows for 2021. My research project uses 18th- and 19th-century newspapers digitised by the Barbados Archives Department to look at the ways in which colonial newspapers facilitated or challenged the practice of slavery. A major part of this project has involved crowdsourcing and we have had amazing support from the public. In less than three weeks after the project launched, more than 3,000 volunteers helped identify over 25,000 adverts relating to slavery. This community is now answering questions about these adverts to help extract key information.  

Meanwhile, using machine learning and other computational methods, I am curating this data in order to create a free-to-access database that will include detailed information about the identities and lives of enslaved people. This database will be freely available to the public and researchers so they can trace ancestors, conduct academic research, or maybe just explore the life stories of people hidden within these newspapers. 

Agents of Enslavement homepage

How did you get into this field? 

My career in cultural heritage organisations began with a series of history degrees, culminating in a DPhil from the University of Oxford and the publication of a book relating to the history of the British Empire in the Middle East. This research background led me to join a project to create a digital archive relating to Gulf History at The National Archives (TNA). The digital archiving experience I got at TNA led me to the British Library – and it doesn’t get much better than working for EAP, which must be one of the world’s largest, varied, and most successful digital archives. 

What do you love about the Library? 

The opportunity to collaborate with great people and to learn and try new things. I’m lucky to be closely connected with the Library’s Digital Scholarship team who are always looking to innovate and upskill. A great example of this is the recent computing for cultural heritage programme, which supported staff members to study for a postgraduate degree in data science. I was lucky enough to be part of this cohort where I was able to meet new people from across the Library and learn new digital skills which I am now putting in to practice as part of my research fellowship. 

Any book recommendations for our readers? 

Whenever I read a book I tend to forget what happened very quickly, which means I’m not very good at recommending books. I’m also very indecisive. But three books spring to mind, and I suddenly realise that all three share some similarities (which makes me feel better about recommending more than one). The three books are: 

  • Spies by Michael Frayn 
  • The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon 
  • Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood. 

In all three books there is a strong focus on childhood and growing up. Particularly in Cat’s Eye and Spies, where the adult narrators look back at their childhood and the secrets they contain. Perhaps the key unifying aspect of the three books is that they all merge the past with the present. And given my background as a historian, perhaps it is not surprising that of all the books I have read, it is these three books that stand out to me. 

What’s your favourite object in our collection? 

According to Wikipedia, the British Library is estimated to contain approximately 200 million items. And I’ve already admitted to being indecisive. So this seems like an impossible question to answer. But right now I can’t really look past the collection of digitised newspapers that I am currently using for my research. 


The original copies of these newspapers are located in Barbados where they were digitised. But digital copies sit on the British Library’s server where they are freely available for anyone with an internet connection to view online. These newspapers are not an easy read. They are full of offensive language and contain vivid descriptions of the horrendous treatment received by people forced into chattel slavery. It is the normalisation of this system that is often so jarring. But despite being a tool of enslavement and a mouthpiece for enslavers, these newspapers are now helping to reveal the identities, connections, and acts of resistance of people enslaved in British colonies. And it is for that reason that this collection stands out to me, not necessarily as a favourite. But because of its historical and contemporary significance. 

Find out more about the Agents of Enslavement project by clicking here.