Living Knowledge blog

Behind the scenes at the British Library

Introduction

Experts and directors at the British Library blog about strategy, key projects and future plans Read more

27 January 2023

Voyages of discovery: Collaborative Doctoral Partnership projects at the British Library

Every year, we invite staff across the Library to propose new research themes for our Collaborative Doctoral Partnership (CDP) programme, funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC). CDP projects are created to reflect our wider strategic commitments to Living Knowledge, and offer exciting opportunities to bring under-researched collection areas to the fore.

In this blog we will meet three of our recent CDP students, Dominic Bridge, Jodie Collins and Naomi Oppenheim, and learn about their research projects. Find out more by watching their short video case studies.

Dominic Bridge

Dominic has a CDP studentship between the British Library and the University of Liverpool. His research focuses on music publishing in the 18th and 19th centuries, capitalising on the breadth and depth of our collections in this area. He shows how scores and musical manuscripts reflect the culture in which they were made, and particularly attitudes like patriotism and social expectations of women . Dominic benefited from many professional development opportunities during his CDP.

“Working on the [Beethoven] exhibition at the Library was a great opportunity … and I would not have the opportunity to do that anywhere else.”

Jodie Collins

Jodie shared her partnership with the University of Sussex, researching American political pamphlets published in between 1917 and 1945. Her CDP has offered her the chance to work with the Marx Memorial Library as well, and give people beyond academia an insight into what is available at the Library, and why our collections are important. Jodie enjoyed the public facing aspect of research that the Library offers.

“Doing a CDP is unparalleled in terms of access to resources … It’s kind of like the voyage of discovery.”

Naomi Oppenheim

Naomi was a CDP student based at University College London. Her research is about Caribbean publishing since the early 19th century, and specifically Latin-Caribbean publishing in post-war Britain. She was supported in engaging broader audiences, working on the ‘Caribbean Foodways’ project which emphasises the importance of food in understanding Caribbean culture through oral history interviews, which have been deposited in the Library’s Sound Archive. She also helped to develop the Windrush exhibition in 2018.

“Having that opportunity to funnel my research into a public facing exhibition is a once in a lifetime experience.”

These videos demonstrate how CDPs enable great opportunities in research and engagement for the Library, beyond just the topic of the individual PhDs. They are vital for bringing together researchers, curators, and members of the public, and stimulating future research.

To be added to the mailing list for our quarterly research e-newsletter, where you can find out about future PhD opportunities, please contact pgr@bl.uk

Saad Hujaleh

Research Information and Communication Apprentice

 

 

09 January 2023

LibraryOn: researching collaborations between public and university libraries

Every year the British Library offers a number of PhD research placements and in this blog Suzy Lawrence, a PhD Placement Researcher, shares her research insights and recommendations. In June, Suzy started her placement as part of the LibraryOn team to explore existing collaborations between university and public libraries across the UK.

Library-on logoLibraryOn is the new name for the Single Digital Presence, an online platform led by the British Library and funded by Arts Council England that will connect people with their local libraries and celebrate what public libraries offer (see LibraryOn). This research has explored options for the future by considering how LibraryOn might help to bring university and public libraries closer together for the benefit of their users.

Benefits of collaboration

It was clear from the beginning of the placement that the term ‘collaboration’ is used very broadly to cover a wide range of joint activities. In the library sector, these can vary from skill sharing groups, to cooperative single projects and campaigns, to allowing ongoing access to each other’s library spaces and books, to fully collaborative joint library spaces, such as The Hive in Worcester.

As part of the research, a wide range of librarians from different libraries were consulted, many of whom had been involved in such projects. It was striking how helpful everyone was and how generous with their time. Such conversations also revealed a widely held belief that working together across the library sector can bring real benefits for everyone involved.

For public libraries, the benefits include the opportunity to share resources, such as skills, personnel and physical space. There is also a desire to broaden the user base of public libraries and to increase footfall, particularly among teenagers and people in their twenties who are not frequent library users.

For university libraries, the opportunity to share resources also appeals but an equally important motivation is the desire to connect with local communities and to allow access to knowledge on a more equitable basis.

Hive-image1The Hive in Worcester, a notable example of a fully collaborative joint library space.

Barriers to collaboration

While there are many motivations that bring public and university libraries together, there are also some barriers that can prevent collaborations from taking place.

One of the most important is that while public libraries aim to serve the general community, university libraries have to prioritise their student body. This different focus can make it hard to find a project that benefits all the users of both libraries.

Other issues include the different resources available to public and university libraries, which can make it hard to form equal partnerships, and the surprising difficulty in finding the right person to contact at each organisation.

How can LibraryOn help?

Whilst LibraryOn is currently focused on public libraries, the team is conscious of the wider library ecosystem and how LibraryOn might be able to support greater connections within it. As a communicative and connective space, there is great potential in the future for LibraryOn to help bring different libraries together – whether that be to share resources, ideas, skills or technology – which could then lead on to further collaborative projects outside of the platform.

In addition, the ultimate aim of the work is to increase usage of public libraries, and helping to develop collaborations with other types of libraries is certainly a promising way to do so.

Interested in hearing more? Sign up to LibraryOn newsletter to receive updates on the project by emailing the team at hello@libraryon.org

Visit British Library PhD Placement Scheme for more detail about PhD placement opportunities.

Suzy Lawrence

LibraryOn PhD Placement Researcher

 

16 December 2022

Our highlights of the year

As 2022 comes to a close, we’re taking some time to look back at an incredible year here at the Library. Here’s eight of our favourite moments, all thanks to our users, staff, and community, locally and globally.


A literary treasure trove saved

Honresfield

This year we celebrated the acquisition of the incredible Blavatnik Honresfield Library. Formed in the second half of the 19th century, it’s a collection of manuscripts and printed books which includes exceptional material by the Brontës, Jane Austen, Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott.

For the last 80 years, the collection has been owned privately, and was largely inaccessible. That is until the Friends of the National Libraries enabled it to be purchased for the nation, with its contents distributed between libraries and museums across the UK, including the British Library, accessible to all.

Earlier in December, we celebrated with the screening of a brand new film revealing the contents of the collection and the story of its acquisition. Don’t worry if you missed it – keep your eyes peeled on our social media channels early next year, when we’ll be releasing highlights for everyone to see. 


Lindisfarne Gospels at the Laing Art Gallery

Lindisfarne gospels

Long celebrated as the most spectacular manuscript to survive from Anglo-Saxon England, the Lindisfarne Gospels – created c. 700 – represent a remarkable artistic achievement.

This year the Gospels featured in an exhibition at the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle, in the region of its island of origin. Newcastle City Library also put on a supporting exhibition, and venues across the North East hosted events inspired by the magnificent manuscript.

The exhibition has now ended, but you can still explore the Gospels for yourself online in our digitised version. If you find yourself yearning to learn more, you can grab The Lindisfarne Gospels: Art, History & Inspiration from our shop – one of our best-selling titles of 2022, written by curator Eleanor Jackson. 

The Lindisfarne Gospels will soon be back on display in our Treasures gallery.


Food Means Home

Food means home

Photo by Nicola Fox

For those newly arrived in the UK, adjusting to unfamiliar surroundings can feel daunting. With an idea to help comfort young people from around the world who now live in Leeds, we worked with a group of talented individuals to recreate some of their favourite dishes and share them in a new recipe book: Cooked with Love: World recipes without borders.

Cooked with Love was gifted to foster families at Leeds Civic Hall in November, as well as presented to His Majesty King Charles III when he visited the city.

‘Sharing in this way has opened a window into our young people’s lives before they arrived in the UK. We have all learned so much; from recipes to heart-warming stories from back home and life lessons for us all.’ – Louise Sidibe, Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children Lead for Leeds.

 

10th anniversary of the National Network

In November our Business & IP Centre (BIPC)’s National Network celebrated its 10th anniversary.

Partnering with local libraries across the UK, the National Network helps ideas grow into successful businesses through free resources, training and events. In the 10 years since its launch the National Network has:

  • partnered with 21 libraries around the UK
  • attracted over 185,000 people to events, workshops and webinars
  • helped create over 19,000 business and 12,000 jobs
  • supported more than 10,000 existing business
  • helped safeguard 4,000 existing businesses.

Find out more about how the BIPC can bring business inspiration and support to you.

 

Books Without Borders

Books without borders

This summer we hosted a special event to mark the launch of Books Without Borders – an initiative by the First Lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska, to print and distribute 16,000 books for newly arrived children and families displaced by the war.

Our Learning team welcomed 40 children and their families to our Learning Centre, leading a range of fun activities. But a surprise was in store. The First Lady joined on screen live from Kyiv to read an excerpt of Stories on the 14th Track, one of the many Ukrainian children’s books included in the Books Without Borders project.

‘Books not only entertain and educate us – they also unite us and bring us back to a feeling of home. This project is our victory on the cultural front, and it brings our primary victory closer.’ – First Lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska.

 

Green Libraries Manifesto

Back in July we launched the Green Libraries Manifesto – the next stage in stepping up the shared effort of libraries to tackle the climate emergency and protect our planet.

By signing the manifesto, libraries commit to a set of common principles: to put sustainability at the heart of their work and planning, to embrace innovation, to grow and share knowledge, and to support young people in becoming climate leaders. So far over 50 libraries have signed up to the commitments from across the UK and further afield in Mexico and Ghana.

We’re committed to working across the sector to help build a brighter climate future. That includes making changes to the way we work too.  Making improvements to our buildings to reduce our own carbon emissions, supporting colleagues to initiate sustainable change across the Library through a staff-led Sustainability Group, and supporting our users in researching and contributing to positive climate action.

Find out more about the Green Libraries Partnership.

 

Somers Town Festival

Somers town festival

In July our Piazza was once again host to the Somers Town Festival – Camden’s largest street party.

Local talent took to the stage, from Afro Beats/Cuban fusion musicians Lokkhi Terra, to Scottish folk singer-songwriter Stagg. Other celebrators included local humanist and mental health choirs, youth groups, storytellers, traditional dancers and, of course, a fantastic array of world foods, all from the Camden community.

Watch our video to get a taste of the Festival – and maybe we’ll see you there next year!


Last, but far from least - our exhibitions!

Exhibitions OneBL blog pic

We’ve had a brilliant run of exhibitions this year – not just in London, but in Leeds, across the UK, and across the globe as well.

Starting off in spring with Breaking the News, pop-up displays opened at 30 public libraries across the UK ahead of our main exhibition opening at St Pancras in April. It was our first major exhibition to spotlight the role that news plays in our society, including an original BBC radio script of the D-Day landings and the destroyed hard-drives used by The Guardian to store Edward Snowden’s leaked files.

Gold opened in May, exploring how this precious metal has been used to embellish and enhance the written word across cultures, faiths and time. An exhibition celebrating the lasting impact of Chinese communities in the UK, Chinese and British, followed in November, currently open alongside Alexander the Great: The Making of a Myth: the first exhibition to traverse the rich history and storytelling surrounding one of the most famous figures of the ancient world.

At the Leeds Art Gallery, artist Jill McKnight explored how the people of Leeds have represented themselves over time in her exhibition Desire Lines, in collaboration with our collections. Living with Machines is currently open at Leeds City Museum until January, shedding fresh light on the Industrial Revolution and how advances in technology impacted the lives of ordinary people.

We’ve been globe-trotting too. Alice in Wonderland: Down the Rabbit Hole, an exhibition originally hosted in St Pancras in 2015, is currently open at Shanghai Library East, China. Our Chief Executive, Roly Keating, recently made the trip to Mumbai to open a wonderful co-curated exhibition, Early Photography and Archaeology in Western India, showcasing for the first time some of the rarest, earliest and most striking photographs and objects of India’s archaeological heritage.

We could go on – but it would take an entire blog post of itself! Check out what’s on if you’re interested in seeing our current exhibitions, and find out what we have planned for 2023.

 

Here’s to 50 years

As we approach 2023, we’re getting ready to celebrate 50 years of the British Library since we began operations in July 1973. A massive thank you to everyone who uses the Library and our collection in so many wonderful, creative ways, for making our 49th year, and all the years before that, so brilliant. Have a relaxing and safe Christmas, and a happy New Year!