28 May 2021
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.
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
Head of Collection Programmes and the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership
29 March 2021
In our monthly blog series we go behind the scenes at the Library to introduce you to our people and the many ways they work to bring our collection to everyone. Today we meet Amber Perrier, Community Engagement Officer.
“I work with our local St Pancras community, especially often overlooked groups. It’s grass roots engagement connecting us with our neighbours.”
Tell us about your role?
Amber is our Community Engagement Officer, tasked with engaging our hyper-local community with the British Library in St Pancras, London. Her ‘patch’ includes Somers Town, King’s Cross, Bloomsbury, the Regents Park Estate and other parts of the London Borough of Camden.
She works closely with our Welcome Team and Events and Learning Teams to encourage local families to use the British Library, helping adults register for reader passes and connecting local entrepreneurs with our Business and IP Centre.
Her outreach activity also involves popping into Somali and Bangladeshi community centres to chat to people about our services and local projects such as St Pancras Transformed which may have an impact on residents.
“One of my favourite projects is The Story Garden, it’s a community garden and is open to everyone. As well as growing crops, we’ve run therapeutic arts and crafts events in the polytunnels, and provided a make space for St Martin’s students.”
The Story Garden (2019)
How did you get into this field?
Amber joined us four years ago on a placement under the Culture& traineeship programme, which aims to increase workforce diversity in the heritage sector. During her one-year traineeship she shadowed Library colleagues in Conservation, Basements and the Asian and African Collections and paid reciprocal visits to her cohort at the British Museum and the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery.
At the end of the programme, she had gained a QCF Level 3 qualification in Cultural Heritage and secured a permanent role as a Community Engagement Assistant at the Library – and since been promoted to an Officer position.
“I’d already established relationships with the local community and it was good to continue building these bridges.”
Prior to joining the Library, Amber studied Fine Art at the University of East London and volunteered with community arts organisation Rosetta Arts in Newham.
How has Covid-19 changed the way you work?
With all in-person community engagement activities suspended in 2020-21, Amber has worked hard to keep in touch virtually with local groups.
“I’ve supported webinar presentations and online consultations and have shared job opportunities and events via social media. I’ve also been involved with signposting community organisations’ support services such as food banks as the pandemic hit some local community groups hard.”
What do you love about the Library?
Amber’s job involves meeting lots of people, both staff and local residents. She has been impressed by the hidden skills and interests of the people she meets and has enjoyed chatting to people about her art.
“As an artist I love spending my lunchbreak sketching in the Piazza and chilling out in the Poet’s Circle.”
She was commissioned to design the Somers Town Big Local tote bag off the back of winning a Notting Hill Carnival T-shirt design competition.
Commission for Somers Town tote, illustration by Amber Perrier.
Amber's Notting Hill Carnival T-shirt competition-winning design
What’s your favourite object in the collection?
Amber’s first ‘show and tell’ featured items from our Ethiopian Collections and she became infatuated with the colours and gold in the manuscripts. A particular favourite is Nagara Māryām / History of Mary featured in this blog.
Nagara Māryām / History of Mary, Ethiopia, 18th century. Or 607, f 17r
“I also love looking at the old mags from Newham where I grew up in the East End.”
Any insider tips about the St Pancras area?
Amber normally spends a lot of time out and about in St Pancras meeting local groups. She recommends visiting The Story Garden, a temporary garden shaped by and for the local community and developed in response to feedback on our transformation plans for the Library.
“It’s very therapeutic and you can take the time out to enjoy the botanical atmosphere.”
Any book recommendations for our readers?
Amber recommends All on the Board written by two TFL underground employees. They started creating their famous quote boards anonymously as a side hustle to their day job as station support staff.
“I’ve been dipping in and out of it during lockdown and it’s been a great pick-me-up. It really lifts my spirits!”