Untold lives blog

Sharing stories from the past, worldwide

21 April 2020

From our homes to yours - the work of the Modern Archives and Manuscripts team

Like many people, British Library staff have been working from home over the past few weeks and will be doing so for the foreseeable future.  Whilst there are of course tasks we are unable to perform without direct access to the physical collections, we are utilising this time to focus on the many ways we can share the Library’s fascinating items and their stories with you digitally - from our homes, to yours.

The Modern Archives and Manuscripts team manages collections dating between 1601-1950. Here are just a few of the things they are working on, and some ways you can access and enjoy our collections from the comfort of your home.

Cataloguing Collections

Screenshot of Explore Archives and Manuscripts online catalogue

The British Library is constantly adding, through gift or purchase, new manuscript and archive material to the collection.  Our teams record information on our collection catalogue Explore Archives and Manuscripts so you can discover and access the items.

At present we are focusing on some acquisitions that have been patiently awaiting cataloguing.  These include a harrowing day-by-day account by Herbert F. Millar of his failed polar rescue mission; a bundle of letters by playwright George Bernard Shaw; and a letter written by Jane Austen on her final birthday.

Letter written by Jane Austen on her final birthday
Letter from Jane Austen, written on her 41st birthday.

Once cataloguing is complete, these incredible documents will be discoverable online and ready to be made available in our reading rooms when the Library’s doors re-open.

Digital Engagement
The Modern Archives & Manuscripts team has an active presence on Twitter.  Our team has been using the platform to highlight our material on Digitised Manuscripts and Discovering Literature , to promote blogs and podcasts, and to engage with trending global topics.  Curator Alexander Lock gave a “Twitter Tour” of our William Wordsworth 250th birthday celebration display which opened in the Treasures Gallery shortly before the Library closed.  You can follow the Modern Archives and Manuscript team at @BL_ModernMSS.

Twitter Tour of Wordsworth exhibition

We will be working on more in depth explorations of our collection material through the Untold Lives and the English and Drama blogs.  Look out for posts exploring the ‘lost’ manuscript chapter from Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Land of Mist, and a closer look at the Jane Austen letter pictured above.

The team are still available to answer enquiries although the extent of assistance we can offer may be limited at this time.

Collection Guides

A large selection of collection guides can be found on the British Library website, each providing an insight into the variety of material we hold on a number of fascinating subjects and themes.

Screenshot of Collection Guides webpage

Our team is working to create more guides on interesting new themes including Food, Architecture, and Politics.  These will provide a vital starting point for user research, whether for work or pleasure.

During this time, it is incredibly important to the British Library and its staff to do all we can to keep your library alive and accessible.  This challenging situation is affording the Library staff the opportunity to become digital users, so we can better understand and improve digital access, not only to mitigate short term restrictions, but for the long term as well. 

Zoe Louca-Richards
Curator, Modern Archives and Manuscripts


Untold lives blog recent posts



Other British Library blogs