Knowledge Matters blog

Behind the scenes at the British Library

2 posts from February 2024

22 February 2024

Restoring our services – 22 February 2024 update

Researchers at the British Library (Image: Mike O'Dwyer)
As regular users of the Library will know, our teams have been working since the cyber-attack to find ways to restore access to as much of our collection as possible, while ensuring that we do so in a way that is safe and resilient.  I am incredibly grateful to all of our users, on-site and remote, for the patience you have continued to show during this highly disrupted period for the Library.

Our recovery plan is now advancing, and I thought it would be helpful to share an indicative list of the improvements and restorations of service you’re likely to see between now and the middle of the year, by which time we hope to have restored the majority of our key services, even if the method of delivery may be unfamiliar in some cases.

Further improvements between now and Easter

  • Increased ordering limits in our Reading Rooms
  • Enhanced Reader Registration process
  • Increased access to material stored in Boston Spa

Following on from the restoration last month of our main catalogue and increased access to special collections, this month we have raised the ordering limits in our Reading Rooms so that you can now order up to six collection items per day.

In March we intend to introduce an enhanced Reader Registration process to replace the current, paper-based workaround. This new process will be more secure and will enable access to Library content for new Readers who are currently only able to use the Reading Rooms as study spaces.  This improvement will remedy what I know has been a major source of frustration to new Readers wishing to access our collection.

Also in March, we plan to restore access to material that is held at our Boston Spa site in non-automated storage locations, from where items can be retrieved manually.  This will make some 224 linear kilometres of additional content available for the first time since the attack to users at St Pancras as well as at Boston Spa itself.

Looking further ahead – April to July

  • Access to more collection items stored in Boston Spa
  • Digital collections that we have acquired through non-print legal deposit (NPLD)
  • More digital and digitised content

In the period between April and July we expect to restore access to the remainder of our collections held at Boston Spa, including items held in the automated storage facilities which were affected by the attack: the National Newspaper Building and our Additional Storage Building.

Another priority will be the restoration of on-site access to the digital collections that we have acquired through non-print legal deposit (NPLD), including e-books, e-journals and other digital published content. Lack of access to this collection has had an impact on the other legal deposit libraries (the National Libraries of Wales and Scotland, the Bodleian Libraries, Cambridge University Library and Trinity College Dublin) and the researchers that rely on them, and we are working closely with these partners to enable access to this content, in some form, by the middle of the year.

Like our physical holdings, this is a collection that continues to grow, year on year, and so we will aim to have a means to capture and store new NPLD content within a similar timescale. We expect that it will take longer to restore access to the UK Web Archive because of the scale and complexity of this collection, and we will provide further details on our plans for this as soon as we can.

Between April and July we will also be aiming to restore access to a wide range of other digital and digitised content, which are vital resources for researchers and learners across the UK and around the world.

As our recovery programme progresses we will be able to confirm more detailed dates and milestones, which we will share with you as and when they are scheduled. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, please make sure to check with our Reference Services team that the items you seek are available before making travel arrangements. You can do this by emailing [email protected]. You can also contact the Reference Services team to book one-to-one appointments online or in person, and to answer your questions and help find the information you need. 

PLR statements and payments

Irish Public Lending Right (PLR) statements were issued at the end of January, and we now expect to make payments to authors and others who receive Irish PLR next week, in line with the timetable we shared last month. UK PLR statements are due to be issued shortly and payments to UK authors and illustrators are on track to be made by the statutory deadline at the end of March.

Lessons learned and shared

I’ve mentioned previously that we are learning and noting many lessons from our experiences during the cyber-attack, as well as the challenges of recovering fully and restoring much-needed services in the aftermath. We will look to share these in the near future with everyone, including colleagues across the sector, in government and internationally.

Although the journey is a long and complex one, we are doing everything that we can to return to as full a service as possible, as soon as we safely can.

Once again I want to apologise for all the disruption that has resulted from the cyber-attack. With our recovery programme now well underway, we will have further progress to report on a regular basis in the coming months.

Sir Roly Keating

Chief Executive

09 February 2024

Restoring our services - 9 February 2024 update

Researchers at the British Library (Image: Mike O'Dwyer)

Three weeks on from the restoration of our main catalogue and the improvements to access arrangements for our special collections, we’ve seen a substantial increase in people using our Reading Rooms at St Pancras, with more researchers able to consult books, journals and manuscripts held onsite.  

Although the various manual workarounds that we have had in place since 15 January may be different from normal, they’ve enabled us to resume our core responsibility of providing access to the collection. Our catalogue becoming visible and usable once again has been a key milestone on our road to recovery, and further improvements will continue to be made in the weeks and months to come. 

Next steps in restoring our services

As mentioned in my previous update, we are working to restore as many of our services as possible in the first half of this year, even though some of these solutions may be interim and more manual than you’re used to.   

Later this month we will share an indicative timeline for when some of these key services are likely to be restored, particularly access to collection items held at our Boston Spa site and to more of our digital collection. 

As with the interim arrangements for ordering material held at St Pancras, there may be more of a manual or hybrid element than would normally be the case, but our priority is to restore access to our collection to everyone who needs it. 

How we can help you 

Because of the current situation, we know that you may need more support in using the Library at the moment. We have created a short film to explain how to use our online catalogue, and we will be sharing more advice for researchers over the coming weeks.  

Full details of what’s currently available can be found on our interim website, which also includes links to a range of resources which may be helpful as alternatives to some of the material that remains unavailable for the time being.  

If you are making a special trip to visit our Reading Rooms please do, however, check in advance with our Reference Services team that the items you seek are available before making travel arrangements. You can do this by emailing [email protected]. You can also contact the Reference Services team to book one-to-one appointments online or in person, and to answer your questions and help find the information you need. 

Public Lending Right statements and payments 

I’m very pleased to be able to confirm that workaround arrangements are now in place to ensure that Public Lending Right (PLR) statements and payments can be made in advance of the statutory deadline at the end of March.  

Last month we shared timings for statements and payments to authors, illustrators and others who are entitled to PLR, in both Ireland and the UK, and last week we issued Irish PLR statements, in line with this revised timetable. Although we usually issue both statements and payments a few weeks ahead of the current timeline, I hope this confirmation provides some reassurance to those who may have been concerned about the potential impact of the cyber-attack on their PLR payments. 

Thank you for your continued understanding 

We’re very aware that this remains a difficult and sometimes frustrating situation for you, and I’d like to apologise again for the disruption you have experienced since the cyber-attackers first struck. Our efforts to rebuild securely will take time, but we hope you will continue to notice positive improvements to our key services through our growing range of adaptations to connect more people with more of our collection. Thank you for your continued patience and understanding.   

Sir Roly Keating 
Chief Executive