75 per cent of Britons know about their national
library. That's increased from under 50 per cent
of the population five years ago, according to
a MORI poll*. We're building our reputation in
the public imagination. Our St Pancras visitor
numbers have risen by 3.6 per cent according
to the Association of Leading Visitor attractions,
during a time when most London attractions
have seen visitor numbers fall after the
bombings of July 2005.
We want people using our services to have a fulfilling,
rewarding experience. We strive to mount exhibitions and
run workshops and events of a high calibre that inspire
and connect with audiences.
Our public spaces and exhibition galleries are a major part of
the Library's attraction. However rich our web resources, people
still get a special thrill from seeing the real thing, whether it's
Jane Austen's manuscripts or John Lennon's lyrics. Visitors from
across Britain and throughout the world come to see the actual Magna
Carta, revered as democracy's founding document. This year it's
the centrepiece of a major gallery refit, and the new display improves
its presentation and interpretation, while maintaining the visitors'
focus on Magna Carta
itself. Multimedia technology is used to give context and enhance
people's engagement with the real-life iconic document.
In response to the feedback we get from visitors, we're creating
a better experience in the Sir
John Ritblat Gallery, Treasures of the British Library. For
example, we've provided more seating at the listening points, put
Turning the Pages
consoles alongside featured works, and improved the labelling and
lighting throughout the gallery.
Giving people the opportunity to
get close to our greatest treasures
is core to our mission - but so is our
responsibility to preserve them for
future generations. We've begun
a programme to bring some less
familiar masterpieces to public
attention; meanwhile, following
international best practice, we're
taking certain treasures off display on a six month rotation to rest
them from exposure to light and
to minimise the strain on their
bindings. Rarely will more than
one major work be off display at
any time and full information will
always be given on our website.
Our major summer programme 2005 celebrated Hans
Christian Andersen's bicentenary, and brought the Ugly Duckling,
the Snow Queen and the Emperor's New Clothes to
life in performances, displays, storytelling, origami and a scholarly
conference. A giant white swan hovered over the exhibition gallery,
and visitors young and old told us they loved the 'magically inventive
and playful world' we created.
To extend the reach of the exhibition,
we worked with the London Libraries
Development Agency to deliver a family
reading promotion, Magical Tales, to
local libraries in London and Yorkshire.
14 library authorities took part, running
53 events over the summer. We also
collaborated with Visit Denmark on a 'flying suitcase' promotion, delivering 500
suitcases full of Andersen information to
98 UK regional libraries.
In summer 2005 we commissioned MORI to survey people using our
Reading Rooms. 75 per cent said they wouldn't think of using any
other resource and 95 per cent said they achieved what they wanted
to during their visit. One in 12 of the users surveyed said they
came to the Library every single day - a response echoed by the
art historian Frances Spalding, who recently wrote, 'the British
Library is one of my great loves - even something of a second home'.
Her enthusiasm is shared by writer Amy Rosenthal, who said in the
Daily Telegraph, 'this beguiling building provides a warm
and gracious sanctuary. a convivial haven, with an ambience both
scholarly and sociable'.
We're keen to ensure that everyone who
wants to do research feels welcome to use
their national library. Whether people are
researching for academic, personal, public
service or commercial purposes, we've
encouraged all who can to benefit from
the Library, which has led to a 17 per cent
increase in Reader visits over the past year.
In parallel, we've improved services. Registering
for a Reader Pass is an easier process. There are extra spaces
for Readers to use during busy times. Readers can now order books
from our online catalogue before they visit, so that when they arrive,
their books are waiting for them in their Reading Room. A new Welcome
Team has been formed, comprising staff with wide and varied experience,
able to guide people from registration right through to how to make
best use of our resources to tackle complex research topics. The
ways we communicate with our visitors - signs in the buildings,
leaflets, information display screens and our website - have been
clarified and standardised to make the Library easier to use by
more diverse audiences.
All the above are facets of the top
strategic priority that we announced last
year - to enrich the user's experience.
Notwithstanding the pressure on services
of a greater number of Reader visits,
the percentage of Readers rating their
experience as either 'excellent' or 'good'
rose from 92 to 96 per cent this year.
"The growing popularity of
the Reading Rooms has seen
an increase in demand for our
services. But the teams who
run them have responded
to the pressure, particularly
over the peak periods, and
our book delivery times
remain four per cent above
target. My colleagues are
dedicated and go out of
their way to help people
get their research done."
Reading Room Support Manager
Opening the doors to
The British Library hosted London's Family
History Day in March 2006. The day proved overwhelmingly popular
- 4,000 people poured in, many of whom had not visited the Library
before. BBC London broadcast from the Library throughout the day,
giving an even wider audience an insight into tracing family roots.
Family History Day marked the new series of the BBC's popular Who
do you think you are? and one of our guest speakers was Nick
Barratt, leading genealogist and consultant for the programme. The
free activities included a family history fair featuring some 30
exhibitors, a programme of talks by British Library and external
specialists, 'meet the expert' sessions, workshops for young people
and performance poetry.
An inspirational pair of British Library
Readers recently completed their
postgraduate studies at an unusually
advanced age. Murray Glynn and Dr Ron
Lipman have been using the Reading Room
at Boston Spa regularly for the past five
years. Murray has successfully completed
his MA on the social effects of early
broadcasting and Ron has just been
awarded his PhD by the University of
Manchester. His thesis was The Limits of
Jewish Identity: Jewish attitudes to the
black Jews of Ethiopia in 19th and 20th
century Europe and in contemporary Israel.
First appearance of the Ashes
The Sporting Times originally coined the term 'the Ashes' in its
obituary of English
cricket in September 1882. The Chief Executive was at the Brit
Oval Cricket Ground to present facsimiles of the original to the
MCC, ECB and SCCC at the start of the 2005 final test. The Ashes
contest and England's win sparked national interest in the myths
surrounding the series. The Library's newspaper collection is a
treasury of facts and legends behind Britain's sporting heroes and
their achievements. In the run-up to the 2012 Olympics, we're looking
at ways to bring this national resource to greater public attention.
Sounds of Africa
The African soundscape echoed around the Library during Africa 05,
the UK-wide celebration of African culture. One hundred recordings
from our Sound Archive - including one that eavesdropped on a cheetah
asleep in a tree - juxtaposed the traditional and the modern, the
rural and the urban, and challenged common perceptions of Africa.
and literature could be heard on different floors at special sound
stations. The Archive's century of sound recordings of Africans
and Africa comprises a historic and cultural resource of enormous
* MORI survey in summer 2005 of 610 Library users
and 1,300 members of the public.
Respond to the ideas on this page
Next - Connecting with our supporters