Knowledge Matters blog

Behind the scenes at the British Library

2 posts categorized "International"

28 May 2021

Making two million images freely available online

Ten years ago the British Library and the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development started exploring possible areas of collaboration. For some time the British Library had been working on an international engagement strategy to make our collections more accessible in partnership with other organisations.

Fast forward to 2021, and our partnership with the Qatar Foundation and Qatar National Library has gone from strength to strength, this week hitting the major milestone of making our two millionth image freely available online via the Qatar Digital Library.

Under the British Library’s Living Knowledge strategy we have sought new partnerships and collaborations, particularly when it comes to digitisation and digital scholarship.  Our aim is to open up the collections to a global audience and the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership is a prime example of this endeavour.


Camera view during photogrammetry creation of Astrolabe on QDL by Jordi Clopes-Masjuan.

Two million images is a nice round number, but as soon as you stop to consider how much work it is to make available such a vast amount of content, it is even more impressive - even by national library standards, it is a lot of content.

Thousands of files, manuscripts and maps have been brought up from the Library’s basements through dozens of different workflow stages in order to make them available online. Every item is checked by conservators, catalogued by archivists and content specialists, and returned by our Library Assistants. Every one of the two million pages has been foliated, copyright cleared, scanned or photographed, quality checked, processed and uploaded. A new enhanced catalogue record for every item is created and then translated into Arabic, so that the QDL is a truly bilingual resource, transforming access to these collections for researchers in the Gulf, and indeed for users around the world.


A collection item undergoing conservation treatment, with information added as part of a Hack Day (Photo: Imaging Services)

A key part of the online resource is not only making high-quality images and catalogues available, but contextualising the collections in an engaging way. Over the past year during several lockdowns the partnership team have been unable to work on the collections directly as they normally would, however, they have pivoted to working remotely, in many cases working creatively to open up and highlight the fascinating collections that we continue to make available.


Screenshot of the Bitsy Game created by Ellis Meade of the Qatar National Library

Colleagues have produced new and innovative ways into the collections through ‘hack days’, including making games and mosaics, as well as adding to the over 170 Expert Articles that are available. These pieces cover topics from introductory articles on Arabic Manuscripts at the British Library to Pivotal Moment in Qatar’s History through the collections.


Mosaic of the Qatar Digital Library homepage by Laura Parsons

Please do explore this amazing resource, and tell us about it through our Twitter feed: @BLQatar.


Richard Davies

Head of Collection Programmes and the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership



19 May 2017

Celebrating Bengali New Year at the British Library


Saturday 29 April saw the British Library host a celebration of Bengali New Year in the Knowledge Centre with 200 people from the local community.

The Library teamed up with Age UK Camden to put on the event which included presentations, talks with curators, a pop-up exhibition celebrating Bangla films of the 1940s, traditional Bengali food, live music and dance.


Camden Councillor Samata Khatoon (pictured, above) kicked off the day’s activities with a speech about the importance of Bengali New Year and the Library’s involvement in this year’s celebrations.

Layli Uddin, project curator of Two Centuries of Indian Print, gave a presentation on the Library’s Bengali collections, which was followed by curator Jody Butterworth presenting on the Endangered Archives Programme.

The event included the launch of a new pop-up travelling exhibition which celebrates 1940s Bangla films and includes key items from the Library’s collection. The exhibition, which also includes artwork by Age UK Camden as well as the Mother and Toddler Group from Edith Neville Primary School, is now touring venues in the Somers Town community. Its first stop is Regent High School and another four venues have requested to host it.


Guests enjoyed a Bengali-inspired lunch in the Knowledge Centre Bar and went out of their way to praise the traditional dishes on offer for their authentic flavours.

The afternoon’s activities included classical Indian dance by Priyanka Basu (pictured, top), who works cataloguing Bengali books for the Two Centuries of Indian Print project. Priyanka holds a PhD from the Department of the Languages and Cultures of South Asia, SOAS London for her thesis on Bengali Kobigan: Performers, Histories, and the Cultural Politics of ’Folk'.


Renowned Indian-Bangladeshi singer Sahana Bajpaie performed live as part of the group Sahana Bajpaie and Friends. The group included the oud (Syrian lute), Indian percussion and a keyboard in their lively set. The combination of the music and dance really brought the celebration to life.

The closing speech came from local community leader Barbara Hughes MBE, former Mayor of Camden and trustee of Age UK Camden.


We were really pleased that so many local people came to this event – and for many of them it wast their first ever visit to the British Library. It was fantastic to have our experts presenting to local people and sharing the Library’s knowledge. We’re confident that people will have left knowing quite a lot more about what goes on here,  and hopefully the travelling exhibition will inspire people to get in touch with us too.

Emma Morgan & Amber Perrier

Community Engagement Manager and Community Engagement Trainee


Find out more about the work of the Library's Community Engagement team by following @BL_Local