Knowledge Matters blog

5 posts from February 2022

21 February 2022

Library Lives: Adrian Edwards, British Library St Pancras

‘Librarians can help bring antiquarian books to life. We can show people how they capture the thoughts and experiences of past generations. How the styles of binding, illustration, page layout and typeface show that design is never static. And how the scribbles, doodles and wine stains may hint at what previous owners and readers really thought of the text in front of them.’ 

We're back at the British Library for this month’s Library Lives, with Adrian Edwards, Head of Printed Heritage Collections. 

Adrian Edwards
Adrian Edwards

Where was your local library growing up? 

Kempston Branch Library in Bedford. A completely rectangular building that must have been constructed in the early 1960s. When I was growing up, all the books were on the walls around the edge, leaving the middle totally empty. You always felt that everyone was watching everyone else. 

Why did you want to become a librarian? 

I always enjoyed organising things as a teenager: books and people. 

Tell us about your role at the British Library 

I lead the curatorial team that acquire and interpret the British Library’s collections of older printed books published from the 15th century through to the end of the 20th century. 

Adrian's desk at St PancrasAdrian's desk at St Pancras

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

Can I choose the entire King’s Library of George III? 

Adrian takes us on a tour of the King’s Library 

What is the most unusual query you have helped someone with? 

When I worked at the Ministry of Agriculture Main Library people were always looking for information about ostrich farming: it was all the rage in the late 1980s, but there was very little guidance about how to do it well, and we largely relied on finding obscure articles in Farmers Weekly

Other than your own, where's your favourite library, or one you would most like to visit?  

Jubilee Library, Brighton, is my local library and definitely one of my favourites. It’s partly wind and solar powered, and re-uses the rainwater that falls on the roof to flush the loos. How cool is that!  

I also love Stockholm Public Library; the inside of the 1920s rotunda is a Scandinavian design classic. 

Can you sum up being a librarian in three words? 

Information. Navigation. Interpretation. 

What do you think makes a good librarian? 

The ability to organise bits of knowledge and see the connections. It’s good to be familiar with the full range of old-fashioned reference books too, as it helps to be one step ahead of Wikipedia. 

Outside of work... 

I have an amazing collection of Finnish postage stamps, but don’t tell anyone. 


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

That when we do exhibitions, it’s not just about putting pretty things in cases, it’s about telling interesting, well-researched stories. 

Do you have a favourite fictional librarian? 

The orangutan at the Unseen University (Terry Pratchet). Fetching books is so much easier when you can climb the shelves. 

Can you recommend us a book? 

Mary Renault’s The Persian Boy. It follows the life of the adult Alexander the Great from the perspective of his eunuch bedroom slave. I read it when I was 16, and again when I was 55, and was moved by it both times.  

Interview by Ellen Morgan. 

We’re interviewing 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 [email protected]  

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


An update on the Single Digital Presence Project

The Single Digital Presence project will develop a digital platform to improve public access to the collections, exhibitions and online events of libraries across the country.

This project is part of Arts Council England’s vision for public libraries and the British Library’s Everyone Engaged Portfolio, which aims to make our intellectual heritage available to everyone. 

The platform is being developed by the British Library and will allow libraries to share content and resources, promote two-way traffic with local library websites, and give national visibility to local events and collections. We want to make it easier for anyone to access great content via their public library, wherever they happen to be.  User testing from our earlier phases of work suggests that highlighting more of what is on offer in public libraries can help to increase physical as well as online visits. 


The first phase of the Single Digital Presence project took place from 2018-2020. This involved extensive research into similar models around the world, and consultation with libraries and members of the public to explore how a digital platform might work and the resources needed.

Our report “Five Approaches to a Single Digital Presence” highlighted the importance of developing shared systems and infrastructure, and opportunities to improve the experience of e-lending, and the value and importance of building on existing consortia-led activity, rather than taking a ‘top-down’ approach for these.  The collaborative work led by The Libraries Consortium is an excellent example of this. 

Prototype-websiteA prototype from the 2020-21 Alpha Phase

In 2021 we announced £3.4m funding from Arts Council England (ACE) for the next phase of the “Single Digital Presence” project (June 2021- March 2024).  This funding will enable us to develop and test a public-facing version of the platform:

  • Connecting users to their local library and its services
  • Celebrating what libraries are doing around the country
  • Sharing events and information from the British Library (including the Living Knowledge Network and Business & IP Centres)
  • Searchable national, local and online event listings
  • A national newsletter
  • Reading recommendations and ideas from the library community
  • National activities relevant to public libraries

£1.1 million of the funding is ring-fenced to help libraries in England with their digital offers. Further information about the grant programme will be available later this year.

Since the funding announcement, we have been laying the groundwork for the development of the digital platform. This has included developing a roadmap, establishing governance and team structures, refining earlier research and continuing to consult with a range of stakeholders. Brand development, a content strategy and the technical build are three core building blocks and we plan to develop these with a core multidisciplinary project team to keep testing and developing in partnership with the sector and external advisors.   After a competitive process, we have appointed FCB Inferno who will be leading the development of a national brand to encapsulate the value and values of libraries.

We’re kicking off the recruitment for a multidisciplinary and agile team to lead on overall delivery, the content strategy and product development and please keep an eye on the British Library’s recruitment pages if you think any of these posts would be for you.  We want to develop a team that reflects the diversity of public library users, in line with the British Library’s mission to be an institution for everyone.

This project has public library values of openness, inclusivity and accessibility at its heart and if you would to get in touch please email us at [email protected].  

14 February 2022

UK wide Breaking the News exhibition opens this February

Maxime Pons Webster, Live Screening Producer of the British Library Living Knowledge Network tells us about an exciting cross-UK exhibition opening at over 30 public libraries this month.

LKN BKN Jersey 4

This month we open Breaking the News a collaborative exhibition programme across 30 Living Knowledge Network libraries. It is also an upcoming British Library exhibition (launching in April at our St Pancras site), which explores the role news plays in society.

Drawing on a selection of news stories, spanning 500 years of news production in Britain, this exhibition celebrates news and encourages library users to consider how their own community stories are told. Through exhibition displays visitors will be asked the questions ‘what makes an event news?’, ‘what does a free press mean?’, and ‘can we trust the news’?.

Each of the 30 libraries will augment the exhibition in many ways to make it truly their own, surfacing unique collections and fascinating stories. We are happy to be amplifying these exciting regional narratives to a national audience through specially commissioned short films which will be available to watch on

Discover the World War Two newspapers of Nazi-occupied Jersey, alongside the diary of a real resident who tells a very different story. Learn about Wakefield’s first female newspaper owner, Ann Hurst, who used her role to campaign against slavery.

In this online space you will also find online events programmed by the British Library and public libraries themselves, so you can experience local stories and national conversations, regardless of where you live.

For Breaking the News libraries are forging connections with regional press outlets and their own communities. Many are eager to use the themes of the British Library exhibition to invite people to develop their understanding of news, how we consume it, and where our sources of information come from.

In preparation for a rich programme of events and workshops around the exhibition, we convened a session with News Literacy experts, to empower library staff to be educators and facilitators of this ever more important debate.

We are delighted to be launching this exhibition at Leeds Central Library on 24 February with a headline event The Launch Debate. Streamed both online and into public library buildings, this event will be a celebration of regional news and its significance at the heart of communities.

We will be joined by editor of The Yorkshire Post, James Mitchinson, artist and activist for local stories told by local people, Rachel Horne and three-time winner at the Regional Press Awards, Roger Lytollis. This lively conversation will be chaired by Channel 4 News anchor, Fatima Manji.

Since 2017 the British Library has collaborated with public libraries on major UK-wide exhibitions, one of the important cultural offers that exists through the Living Knowledge Network, a partnership of national and public libraries, which was created to explore new ways for libraries across the UK to work together to share ideas, spark connections and create memorable experiences for library users.