Visit to the British Library

On Monday 1 February 2015, I visited the British Library to gain an overview of how the Library functions, what the important issues are to the Library as a public institution and what pressures it is currently facing.


I was delighted to hear about the Save Our Sounds programme from Will Prentice. In a 2 page vision document Will persuaded the BL and philantropists to invest in the vital and enormous task of preserving the recorded and voice and stories from people’s lives. The British Library’s Sound Archive consists of over 6.5 million recordings preserving oral history from the 1880s to the present day. Save Our Sounds seeks to digitalise these recordings. I also met with Dr Nur Sobers-Khan, the Lead Curator for South Asia to see how the Library is digitising historic South Asian texts.


At the Alan Turing Institute headquarters which is housed in the Library but with a separate Board, a joint venture which seeks to establish new research excellence on big data, an important issue in the modern age. The Business & IP Centre in the Library has helped 1000 businesses with help on business plans and intellectual property advice. It is a free service for those with readers pass. Entrepreneurs are offered vital help and support with their ideas and many have succeeded in launching businesses. In the centre, I saw the success story of the collapsible bottle ‘Aquatina’.


Over lunch the Chief Executive Roly Keating said that now there has been a 4 year settlement, the BL can make progress on the future direction. This is set out in the document Living Knowledge. The Library offers more than just research collections of over 150 million items. The Library’s other services, including offering entrepreneurs a programme of practical workshops through its Business & IP Centre, which provides help with business plans and intellectual property advice and positively changes the people’s lives. The Library has also had to accommodate a growing number of students who need a place to work following the increase in Universities admissions. I could see the impact on the Library particularly as it offers 200,000 reference transactions.


I organised this visit as part of my Industry and Parliament Trust (IPT) Fellowship. As part of the IPT Fellowship I wanted to see the effect on business and public sector institutions of all sizes, how they operate and make decisions and the pressures they face. I am grateful to all the staff who spoke with me and showed me around this wonderful resource for the public good.


British Library