Living Knowledge blog

6 posts categorized "Strategy"

09 January 2015

The idea of the Library


What will the British Library be like in the future and what will people want from a national library into the third decade of the 21st century?  These are the questions we have been asking as we develop our new vision, which will be published on Monday 12 January at

View of people researching at the British Library. Photo by Tony Antoniou
View of people researching at the British Library. Photo by Tony Antoniou

Living Knowledge sets out the British Library’s vision for our future development as we look ahead to 2023, our fiftieth anniversary as the national library of the United Kingdom.  By 2023 we want to be seen as the most open, creative and innovative knowledge institution in the world.

As Head of Strategy Development in the Library, I’m struck by the incredible breadth and depth of the collections we maintain. We hold some of the world’s most unique and precious written and oral artefacts, but also develop living collections of print, digital and media, which grow by 0.8 kilometres and 6.8 terabytes every month.

The Library's collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation. Our collections include books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, photographs, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. Up to 10 million people visit the British Library website - - every year, where they can view up to four million digitised collection items and over 40 million pages. 

Over the past year we’ve taken a close look at our vision and values, drawing on the expertise of our staff and the British Library Board as well as our own assessment of external opportunities and threats. Living Knowledge provides an overarching vision – the next stage will be to develop more immediate strategic and tactical approaches to achieving these goals.

Living Knowledge updates our 2020 Vision and 2011-15 strategy, both published towards the beginning of this decade. These anticipated rapid technological changes, an increase in the number of ways users can access information digitally and a growing trend towards collaboration. In 2010 we were also aware that knowledge institutions would increasingly need to use technology to demonstrate economic value and support efficiency. Our Annual Reports provide more detail of how we have responded to these drivers for change in previous years. 

Importantly, several additional issues and challenges have influenced Living Knowledge. These include: 

  • The important role of libraries within the data revolution and as trusted sources of advice in a complex digital landscape
  • Ensuring that publicly-funded institutions are accessible to everyone across the UK, whatever their location or background
  • The role of culture and creativity as drivers of economic growth and wellbeing
  • The fact that physical spaces still play an important role in research and culture, even when more content is available online
  • The imperative to address a preservation crisis for the nation’s sound collections, which are under threat, both from physical degradation and as the means of playing them disappear from production.

The core purposes we have set ourselves for the next eight years will ensure that we continue to serve our existing audiences as well as reaching new ones. The scale and diversity of our collections are genuinely awe-inspiring, but so too is our overall mission to make our intellectual heritage available to everyone for research, inspiration and enjoyment.

The British Library’s Chief Executive, Roly Keating, will launch Living Knowledge with a speech at 19.00 on Monday 12 January.  You can follow the livestream of this here: and join the debate using the hashtag #livingknowledge.

Liz White

Head of Strategy Development


21 November 2014

Networking across the nation

All this week we've been celebrating Global Entrepreneurship Week, which is when people and organisations around the world highlight entrepreneurship in all its forms. Did you know that the British Library at St Pancras houses a Business & IP Centre on the first floor, which has welcomed over 400,000 small businesses and entrepreneurs since it opened in 2006?

The panel at our Inspiring Entrepreneurs event on Monday 17 November, L-R: Sir Charles Dunstone, Anya Hindmarch MBE, Matthew Rock (chairing), Kanya King MBE, Tom Pellereau [photo: Luca Sage]

The theme of this year’s week of events has been ‘Get connected’ and that’s what the Business & IP Centre does every week of the year.  We act as an enterprise hub in the heart of London, which connects people to our collections, expertise, business contacts and many relevant organisations beyond the Library.

Small businesses are the backbone of the UK economy. Together they make up 99% of the 5 million businesses, and represent almost 60% of private sector employment.  However, the latest statistics show that being a start-up is a risky business, with fewer than four in ten making it past the first three years.

That’s a lot of time, money and shattered dreams that could so easily have been avoided. Here at the British Library, we have demonstrated that using our information, expertise and networks can increase people’s chances of setting up a successful business by a factor of four.

In the eight years since it opened, the Centre has built an excellent track record in supporting entrepreneurs and small business owners – from all walks of life – to start, and grow, their businesses. At the core of our service are the Library's world-class business and intellectual property collections, and our expertise, all of which enable enterprising individuals to research, protect, develop and commercialise their ideas in a trusted and accessible environment. The information is supplemented by free or highly discounted workshops, one-to-one advice, mentoring and networking events, delivered by Library staff and business experts.

Our most recent evaluation, conducted by Adroit Economics, showed that between April 2006 and March 2012, the Centre helped to create 2,775 businesses, of which 40% were owned by women, 29% by ethnic minority groups and 10% by people with a disability. An additional 3,345 jobs were created in new and existing businesses, and overall, these businesses increased their turnover by £153 million, which in turn made a contribution of £47.1 million in gross value added to London’s economy.1

Building on this model, which was inspired by the New York Public Library’s Science Industry & Business Library, the British Library is establishing a national network of co-branded centres, which takes advantage of the existing public library information services and infrastructure, including some truly iconic buildings. The network currently comprises Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Leeds and Sheffield, all of which are part of the UK Patent Library network2, as well as 10 satellite community projects. The project was kick-started with funding from the Intellectual Property Office, the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Arts Council England.

BIPC Manchester Photo
The Business & IP Centre in Manchester Central Library, part of the growing national network of co-branded centres

The national network has also attracted support from the private sector and in March last year, we signed a partnership agreement with Barclays to roll out our flagship Inspiring Entrepreneurs events programme, with a combination of live screenings and local events in each partner city library, as well as live webcasting to a national and international audience. This includes ‘Question Time for Entrepreneurs’, which took place on Monday and featured a stellar panel of role model entrepreneurs, comprising Sir Charles Dunstone, founder of Carphone Warehouse, Kanya King MBE, founder of the Mobo Awards, Anya Hindmarch MBE,  founder of the eponymous luxury handbag brand and Tom Pellereau, one of Lord Sugar’s ‘apprentices’ who has launched a successful nail care range. 

While libraries are more often associated with books than business, this project is unlocking the potential of city and community libraries to support innovation and job creation in their local economies. Further, each library is sharing knowhow and expertise in order to build the network’s services and keep abreast of developments; for example, some libraries are incorporating incubation and ‘maker spaces’, with 3D printers and other equipment to facilitate prototyping and desktop manufacturing.

Our vision is that, by 2020, there will exist a network of co-branded centres throughout the UK, where face-to-face support will be backed up by webinars, webcasts and one-to-one advice via Skype. The centres will be the ‘front door’ to trusted, face-to-face business support, and an essential part of the local growth hubs, which are being established across the country. Entrepreneurs and small businesses will be able to access critical business and intellectual property information, as well as a proven and consistent quality of service – with a local twist – right across the UK.  That’s what I call getting connected!

Isabel Oswell

Head of Business Audiences


1. Source: Adroit Economics, based on Seven Up Census, April 2012

2. There are 13 Patent Libraries (PATLIBs) in the UK, which are coordinated by the Intellectual Property Office and provide users with local access to information and advice on patents, trademarks, designs and copyright.


Welcome to Living Knowledge!

What do you think of when you hear the words British Library?

For many people, the first things that come to mind are our vast and endlessly diverse collections. You get a very vivid flavour of these from blogs such as Medieval Manuscripts, Untold Lives, Asian and African studies and English and Drama.

For others it will be our spectacular exhibitions and events, while for tens of thousands of regular users it will be our Reading Rooms and WiFi-enabled public areas at St Pancras and Boston Spa.

But there’s another dimension to what the British Library does which is likely to be of interest to a much wider audience.

St P 1

As the UK national library we have unique responsibility to collect the nation’s published heritage – whether in print or digital format – as comprehensively as possible. In addition to ensuring that our collections are built and preserved for future generations, we also have a core responsibility to support and enable the researchers of today, across a massive range of formats and subject areas.

Our strategic and corporate aims encompass such questions as:

  • How do we collect, preserve and provide access to the increasing amount of material published in digital formats, including the UK web domain?
  • How do we store an archive of print newspapers spans more than three centuries and continues to take in every local, regional and national title in the UK?
  • How do we manage access to our Reading Room so as to serve a wide range of audiences as effectively as possible?
  • How do we go about making as much of our collection available online for users across the UK and around the world?

Living Knowledge aims to share some of the answers to these questions, providing something of the bigger picture that frames the British Library’s activities.

The scale and complexity of many of the challenges we face is staggering, but the work to address them very often takes place behind the scenes. This blog, written by a range of people from across the Library, will try to shed a little light on what we’re doing now and what we have planned for the future.

Among our first posts will be a look at an international partnership to digitise hundreds of thousands of items relating to Gulf history, and an ambitious project to redevelop the Library’s huge (and sometimes bewildering)  website. To kick us off, and with this being Global Entrepreneurship Week, Isabel Oswell will outline what the Library has to offer small businesses and start-ups – if you enjoy the piece please don’t hesitate to share it, using the hashtag #livingknowledge

We’re also keen to hear your ideas for future pieces! If there’s some aspect of the Library’s activities, services and long-term plans that you’d like to hear more about, please tweet me at @BL_BenS and it could result in a future Living Knowledge post!

Ben Sanderson

Head of Press