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The British Library The Knowledge Network: The British Library Annual Report and Accounts 2008/09

Dame Lynne Brindley

Dame Lynne Brindley, Chief Executive of the
British Library

"It's been another great year of progress, achievements and recognition for the British Library!"


The Government's Digital Britain report, with its associated debate and consultation, has provided an opportunity to reinforce our critical role in the UK's knowledge economy and our support of research and the creative sector. The digitisation of our collections increasingly provides an inspirational resource which enriches education, transforms research processes and provides the bedrock for authors, entrepreneurs, musicians, television producers and many more. Working with Government we must grow faster our role as custodian of Britain's collective digital memory to avoid a 'digital black hole' of the 21st century and we have a key role to play in equipping people to take best advantage of available knowledge, whether in digital or physical form.

There is enormous public and educational interest in the digitisation of our historic newspapers and we end the year with some three million digitised and fully searchable pages available online. We are now poised to work with a commercial partner to significantly scale up this effort over the coming years. This year we have also completed the digitisation of around 70,000 books and 12,000 recordings.

The construction of a large storage facility at Boston Spa for our ever-growing physical collection nears completion. This will provide 262 linear kilometres of high density, preservation standard storage, with fully automated retrieval systems.

The Library is working with partner organisations across a range of initiatives. The UK Research Reserve is a great example of a truly beneficial national shared service. Invested in by the British Library and the Higher Education Funding Council for England, it provides higher education libraries with a secure solution to storing and preserving lower use print research journals, freeing up campus space whilst guaranteeing long-term onsite and online access to the material.

Our plans for a Digital Research Centre are shaping up, with the involvement of leading researchers and with the support of Research Councils under their knowledge economy programme. We see this development as an opportunity for partnership working, to enrich access to and interaction with multimedia material in ways that will shape both our physical and digital service developments over the next few years.

We have taken significant steps forward in services to support the scientific research community this year. TalkScience events have proved popular: our science collections are supporting a wealth of research – from interpreting our recordings of frog calls and investigating volcanic activity in the 18th century to using our contemporary and rare biomedical journals to inform a study on lactose intolerance. UK PubMed Central is rapidly growing as an open-access database service, with new facilities being added regularly.

It has been another year of distinctive exhibitions. Taking Liberties: The struggle for Britain's freedoms and rights was a particular highlight. Opened by the Prime Minister, it attracted some 100,000 visitors to see treasures including the Magna Carta, the death warrant of Charles I, and the prison diary of suffragette Olive Wharry. The exhibition was accompanied by an award-winning education programme, and enhanced by rich interactive displays which placed visitors, whether online and in the gallery, at the heart of current debates around rights and freedoms, devolved government and free speech.

It has also been a very strong year for 'heritage' acquisitions. Highlights include the Dering Roll, the oldest extant English roll of arms, the Macclesfield Alphabet Book, a rare medieval 'pattern' book, and the archive of the Poet Laureate Ted Hughes. The latter comprises over 220 files and boxes of manuscripts, letters, journals, personal diaries and ephemera, and offers an invaluable resource for researchers of Hughes's prolific career which spanned over 40 years.

My summary would not be complete without celebrating the vital role of our staff in our success. Once again, we won a number of awards, including two from the CBI - for 'Excellence in the Public Sector' and 'People's Organisation', commending our success in engaging staff with the challenges of the digital age. I continue to be enormously proud of my colleagues, who are united in their dedication to this great institution.

Dame Lynne Brindley
Chief Executive