Science blog

30 August 2013

Access to everyone

This week we reveal all about a core part of our work - our science content and collections.

At the British Library we want to “enable access to everyone who wants to do research”. In fact, you could look at libraries as the physical manifestation of open access – they were helping people to connect to information for free, long before the internet. Antonio Panizzi, the Keeper of Printed Books at the British Museum Library said in 1835: “I want a poor student to have the same means of indulging his learned curiosity, of following his rational pursuits, of consulting the same authorities, of fathoming the most intricate inquiry as the richest man in the kingdom, as far as books go...”

And we are still doing that – only we offer more than books today. We have two dedicated Science Reading Rooms at St Pancras where anyone who wants to do research can access our vast collection of science content. When people ask us what we have, it can be difficult to give a comprehensive answer, as we have a lot. We have been collecting for a long time but we also provide access to the latest research across all subject areas in science, technology and medicine. What many people don’t know is that we also have strong holdings of trade and professional titles and collect material from around the world. And for some research, the scientific article may not be enough – perhaps you need to see conference proceedings, reports, PhD theses, datasets, maps or sound recordings – and we have those too.

As the world of scientific information use and publishing evolves, our collection changes too. We are going digital and provide a range of electronic databases, online journals and eBooks. We continue to develop our services and appreciate the feedback we receive from our many users - each year the Library’s dedicated science reference team handles nearly 30,000 customer enquiries both in person and online.

A view of one of the Science Reading Rooms. The ability to browse the physical copies of journals and books is still possible, while having access to the latest online journals and electronic resources.

We know through reader surveys and interviews that our Science Reading Rooms are used by a diverse range of people. While many working in higher education use us, we also attract independent researchers, teachers, entrepreneurs and other professionals. If you are doing research in an obscure field of science it is likely that we’ll be able to help you – our readers identified 45 separate science subjects as research topics in one survey. Try putting any scientific search term into our catalogue – and let us know if you don’t find something! Readers have told us that the breadth of subjects we cover is the main reason they come to us, but many also just really like the experience of having a quiet space to do research, without the interruptions of the outside world.

If you want to find out more about how to use the Library, have a look at the latest videos, see how to obtain a Reader’s pass or look at the Science team’s guide. Then you too can be the ‘richest man (or woman) in the kingdom’.

Ian Walker and Elizabeth Newbold


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