Knowledge Matters blog

Behind the scenes at the British Library

11 February 2022

The impact of philanthropy

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Our Philanthropy Impact Report celebrates the achievements made possible by the generosity of our wonderful supporters. Whether you donate via our website, pop spare notes into our donation box, top up your exhibition ticket with a gift, adopt a book for a loved one, support us through a membership or buy from our shop – each action you take, makes a world of difference to our work. Find out how in the stories below.

A helping hand for home schooling

The pandemic turned homes into classrooms during the height of lockdown. But without internet access or digital devices, this left some young people with no access to learning resources. With support from our donors, we developed a series of free, creative activity books which, through one project alone, helped over 50,000 children take a learning adventure from their living room.

Our first booklet, Once Upon an Adventure, was produced in collaboration with children’s author Viviane Schwarz and featured activities designed to take its audience on a storytelling adventure. From a map to chart your voyage of discovery to directions for creating a toy theatre, the activities created opportunities to explore illustration, writing, imaginative play, character creation and design.

Distributing packs to pupils in our neighbourhood borough of Camden as well as the areas of the UK that needed them most, we reached children in 215 schools. We also worked with community partners and food banks to support families facing difficulty during lockdown, creating two booklets full of learning activities for kids to do at home, inspired by our collection and our exhibition Paddington: The Story of a Bear.

With thanks to the generosity of Old Possum’s Practical Trust, The Truemark Trust, The Tuixen Foundation, the Kusuma Trust and The Corcoran Foundation.

Exploring the world from home

2021 saw the completion of a seven-year project to catalogue, conserve and digitise the topographical collection of King George III, which was presented to the nation by King George IV in 1823. The collection includes 40,000 printed and hand-drawn items, beautifully illustrated historic maps, topographical views, charts, architectural plans and atlases, from across the globe and spanning the centuries.

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Thanks to the generosity of charitable trusts, businesses and individual supporters, the entire collection is now available on the free image sharing site Flickr. And we’ve opened upnew, fully searchable catalogue records on Explore the British Library. For the first time, anyone can remotely view, search and enjoy one of the world’s richest public collections on the history of place.

Digitising our collection is a key part of our mission to make our collection open and accessible to everyone, everywhere. With a collection of over 170 million items, which grows by 8km every year, a vast resource is needed to realise these ambitions. We’re so thankful to all of our supporters who made this digital transformation possible.

A supporter’s story

Michael Katakis is a writer and photographer. His life’s work, and that of his late wife, anthropologist Kris L. Hardin, is part of our collection. Michael and Kris have also supported us philanthropically, and Michael took the time to tell us why.

Michael and Kris decided to house their work at the Library after realising how important it was to keep a record of events. The pair spent a lot of time in Sierra Leone, documenting the civil war and residents of the village of Kainkordu, who they came to know and love. ‘Kris and I were deeply honoured to have our work there (at the Library) and relieved that in one of the world’s greatest institutions there is a record of a people in a time and place before war.’

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So, why does he think libraries are so important?

It is no exaggeration when I say that a library and a librarian saved me. I lost my mother at a young age and I was very withdrawn from the world. In desperation, my father took me to a branch of the Chicago Public Library and walked me up to a big oak desk. I raised my eyes slightly and saw a name plate. ‘Mrs Helen Cabbage.’ Is that not a perfect name for a librarian? She came around her desk, put her arm around my shoulder and walked me through the narrow paths between the high shelves of books. And then she said,

“Every word in all of these books is a thread that will weave a magic carpet that will take you everywhere, and after you have travelled through their pages you will find that there are more kind and open hearts than there are monsters and knowing that will make you less afraid.”

The impact that the library and Mrs Cabbage had on me opened the world up to me, and set me on the path my life would take. Do I think libraries are important? Just for a moment, imagine a world without them.

Michael has very kindly chosen to remember us in his will. The impact, he hopes, will be great.

Kris and I have left nearly everything we own to the British Library and our own small-town library, because it is profoundly important to support the best institutions that human beings have created for everyone, no matter their status, wealth or background. Libraries are one of the greatest achievements and contributions by humankind to understanding and knowledge. The work that librarians, curators and library staff do is some of the most honourable and important in the world.

Each donation helps us to open up a world of ideas and inspiration for everyone. Read more about how your donations have helped us in our Philanthropy Impact Report

To support our work, you can donate online. Or perhaps you’d like to play a bigger part in our story by becoming a Patron or leaving us a gift in your will. To find out how please contact our Development team at [email protected]

Thank you for your support.

Imogen Hobson

Major Gifts and Philanthropy Manager