Knowledge Matters blog

Behind the scenes at the British Library

2 posts from January 2024

30 January 2024

Your Library this year

We have a wonderfully varied line-up of fascinating exhibitions and programmes coming to St Pancras, and your local libraries as well, this year. Here’s a glimpse at what you can expect to see coming up at the Library in 2024. 


Beyond the Bassline (26 April – 26 August 2024) 

Beyond the Bassline image

Beyond the Bassline is the first major exhibition to document 500 years of Black music in Britain, from Tudor musician John Blanke and 19th century composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor through to Pauline Black, the founding member and lead singer of Two-Tone band The Selecter, roots reggae band Steel Pulse and award-winning contemporary record producer and DJ, Nia Archives. 

Spotlighting The Reno in Manchester, Bristol’s Bamboo Club, Scottish club night The Reggae Klub and The Four Aces in London, as well as carnivals, community centres and record shops across the country, the exhibition draws on different places that have cultivated creative expression and inspired a number of Black British music genres. Journeying through jazz, reggae, jungle and afroswing, it also examines the role the internet and new technologies play in creating, listening to and sharing music. 

On display will be a range of sound recording formats, instruments and audio equipment alongside posters, costumes and photographs celebrating music as a form of entertainment, vehicle for community, and as a source of liberation, protest and education. 

Tickets will be on sale soon.


Medieval Women: In Their Own Words (25 October 2024 – 2 March 2025) 

Later this year, our exhibition on Medieval Women will explore the challenges, achievements and daily lives of women in Europe from 1100-1500. It will tell the history of medieval women through their own words and uncover their lives through original documents and artefacts.  

Women’s lives during the Middle Ages were rich and varied. The exhibition will reveal that women exerted great influence across private, public and spiritual realms. It will delve into the lived experiences of medieval women, including their beauty regimes and healthcare, their personal relationships and the running of their homes. It will shed light on their work in a wide variety of trades and professions, their role in medieval politics, the power and influence they wielded as spiritual visionaries or nuns, and the art, music and literature that they created. 

Visitors will discover objects related to inspiring figures such as: Joan of Arc, the religious visionary and military leader; Christine de Pizan, the first professional woman author in Europe; and Shajar Al-Durr, the female ruler of Egypt who defeated Louis IX of France in the Seventh Crusade. 

The exhibition will take visitors on a journey through the lives of medieval women across cultures, religions and class. Exploring both their struggles and successes, the exhibition prompts visitors to discover how medieval women’s voices still resonate across the centuries and speak powerfully to our world today. 

This exhibition is made possible with support from Joanna and Graham Barker and Unwin Charitable Trust.


The Silk Road at Dunhuang (27 September 2024 – 23 February 2025) 

Featuring items from the so-called ‘Library Cave’ in the Buddhist caves complex of Mogao, this exhibition explores the stories of the people who inhabited or passed through the town of Dunhuang in northwest China, a vital resting point along the trading routes known as the Silk Roads.   

Sealed in the early 11th century and only rediscovered in 1900, the contents of the ‘Library Cave’ span the 4th to the 11th centuries. From the Diamond Sutra, the world’s earliest dated, printed book, to the Dunhuang star chart, the earliest known manuscript atlas of the night sky, the documents are an astonishing time capsule detailing life in and around the medieval metropolis of Dunhuang. 

This exhibition is made possible with support from The Klein Foundation and the Dunhuang Foundation.


Get Creative in Leeds 

Leeds Get Creative summer celebration 2023 - low res (65)

We’re continuing to share stories in Yorkshire - expect oral history, Shakespeare and spooky fun later this year. In February, young people in south Leeds will continue to make their mark in our community programme, Get Creative. Our free weekly art sessions help young people aged 10–14 engage with the Library collection and find their voice. This is the second year of the project and it’s just one of the ways we’re getting to know the people of Leeds, where we hope to build a new home in years to come. 


Luminous: A thousand years of Hebrew manuscripts (in Melbourne, Australia until 14 April 2024)

We've partnered with State Library Victoria in Melbourne, Australia to create Luminous: A thousand years of Hebrew manuscripts. This exhibition explores the significance of the written word as a foundation for contemporary Jewish practice, showing ancient manuscripts as part of a dynamic and diverse living culture.

Spanning a millennium of history, Luminous illustrates the beauty and importance of Hebrew texts through items about Jewish life, culture, science, religion, philosophy, music and magic.

The exhibition provides access to rare and significant manuscripts that explore the significance of the written word as a foundation of Jewish culture and tradition, centering the lived experience of Australian Jews here and now.

Find out more

10 January 2024

Restoring our services – an update

Three people stand in front of the King's Library. Photo by Sam Lane Photography
As we begin a new year, I'm pleased to confirm that – as promised before Christmas – next Monday 15 January will see the return online of one of the most important datasets for researchers around the world: the main British Library catalogue, including details of our printed books, journals, maps, music scores and rare books. Its absence from the internet has been perhaps the single most visible impact of the criminal cyber attack which took place at the end of October last year, and I want to acknowledge how difficult this has been for all our users.

When the catalogue returns it won’t be in quite the form that long-standing users will be familiar with. Most notably it will be 'read-only', so although you will be able to search for items as before, the process for checking availability and ordering them for to use in the Reading Rooms will be different. We’ll be providing more detailed information and practical guidance when the catalogue goes online on Monday.

In addition I can confirm that from next week we will also be able to provide our readers with access to the majority of the Library's key special collections – the archives, manuscripts and other unique items that are only available here. For the time being you’ll need to come on-site to consult offline versions of the specialist catalogues, but our reference teams will be on hand to help you with searching for and requesting items.

Taken together these developments mean that for the first time since the attack the majority of physical books, archives, maps and manuscripts held in the basements at our St Pancras site will once again be discoverable and useable by our Readers. Although the processes may be slower and more manual than we’ve all been used to, this is the familiar heart of the Library’s offering to researchers and restores a core element of our public service. It will be good to have it back.

Further stages of recovery

Positive as this news is it’s important to stress that there are many further steps ahead. The broader programme of full technical rebuild and recovery from the attack will take time, and we’re keen to listen to our users and the wider research community to ensure we get the priorities right in the months ahead. Some key future milestones, which we will report on in due course, include restoring access to the full range of content held at our Boston Spa site, and also to those parts of our digital collections that are currently unavailable.

Learning lessons for the future

It’s also important, as we enter this crucial new phase of recovery, to say that we are sorry that for the past two months researchers who rely for their studies and in some cases their livelihoods on access to the Library’s collections have been deprived of it. And we are sorry that for all our efforts we were not able to protect some personal data belonging to our users and our staff from being leaked by these hackers.

It has been a sobering couple of months for all of us at the British Library, and we’re determined that others benefit from the experience we have been through. As I said in my previous blog, what happened to us in October has implications for the whole collections sector, and in the months ahead we will begin to share the lessons we’ve learned from this experience with our partners and peer institutions.

We’re also determined that we learn those lessons ourselves, and use this as a moment not just to replicate the systems we ran before, but to improve as we rebuild. At the time the hackers hit we were embarking on a significant round of fresh investment in our core technology infrastructure, as part of the Knowledge Matters strategy we launched last May. That work will now be accelerated, to ensure that what emerges from this unwanted attack is a strengthened British Library that is as ready as it can possibly be to confront whatever future threats emerge from the constantly evolving world of cyber crime.

Other matters and next steps

Another vital part of the Library’s service is the annual provision of payments to authors and other recipients of UK Public Lending Right (PLR). We understand the vital importance of these payments to those who depend upon them, and many will have been understandably anxious since the cyber attack about the impact on this year’s process. I hope that many of those affected will have seen the message the PLR team published last week, giving reassurance that workaround systems are being put in place to ensure that this year’s payments will be made by, at the latest, the statutory deadline at end of March. A detailed timeline will issued by the end of this month, once this year’s Rate Per Loan has been laid in Parliament.

Full recovery of all our services will be a gradual process, but I hope that from next week onwards those users who have been most severely impacted will start to see real progress, and will continue to see improvements going forward. Recent press speculation about the possible cost of the recovery programme was premature as we have yet to confirm what the full costs will be. We remain in close and regular contact with our government sponsor, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), and will work with them to ensure that our recovery takes place on a secure and financially sustainable basis.

In the meantime more detail about the interim catalogue and the manual requesting process will be shared on our website when the catalogue goes live next week. Future progress on restoring access will be announced via our social media channels and our website at

Once again I’d like to thank our community of users, partners and supporters for the patience and support you have shown so far. I also want to thank the many colleagues who have been working hard over recent weeks to make all of these latest developments possible. We will continue to keep you informed about our recovery programme as further milestones are confirmed and implemented.

Sir Roly Keating
Chief Executive

This blog was amended on 15 January to remove an incorrect number.