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

Explore our year


Many of the year's key developments focused on improving access to the British Library's world class resources of information – from historic manuscripts to sound recordings.

Accessing via a laptop


With more than 15 million records in the British Library's integrated database, the priority is to make it easier for users to find what they need. The transformation of search and navigation got underway with introduction of the new PRIMO-based Search our Catalogue service. Modelled on the search facilities of Amazon and Google, the technology will enable users to search and view details of books, journals, newspapers and conferences, to tag books and write reviews. Users were invited to try out and give feedback on the test site.

A new programme designed to underpin access to research by higher education moved ahead. Following a successful 18-month pilot phase, the UK Research Reserve (UKRR) programme was launched with funding worth £9.84 million from the Higher Education Funding Council. In this collaborative initiative between higher education libraries and the British Library, the Library will store low-use journals for the higher education community and make them available to researchers and others using state of the art technology.

Access to an outstanding collection of 17th and 18th century newspapers was opened up to higher and further education institutions and Research Councils in the UK. A vivid insight into British history, the Burney Collection is now available online free of charge to unlimited numbers of students and researchers. Among the highlights are day to day coverage of the South Sea Bubble – the financial scandal of the 1720s – and reporting of the French Revolution and the inauguration of George Washington.

Free WiFi internet access was introduced to all British Library Reading Rooms and most public areas at the St Pancras site, recognising the growing range of research material available on the internet.

The British Library website was redesigned, with a new home page bringing more content to the top level. A ‘Help for Researchers' page was introduced, making it easier to access information about collections. A new online gallery was launched with more than 30,000 images, online exhibitions and virtual books in our Turning the Pages™ format.

Access to items in the main Integrated Catalogue was considerably improved. New search facilities were introduced and the remote requesting hours extended to seven days a week, making it easier to order items in advance of a visit to the Reading Rooms.

Increased access was given to the Sound Archive's extensive collections from formats ranging from 19th century cylinders to the latest digital media. By March 2009, staff and students in UK higher and further education had free access to over 32,000 rare recordings of music, drama and literature, spoken word and wildlife sounds.

The new gateway to electronic journals, SFX, went live. The service provides more direct access to a wide range of electronic resources, including the full text of articles.

Testing began of the new Electronic Theses Online Service (EThOS), which aims to give researchers all over the world access to all PhD theses produced in UK universities. By April 2009, the system held more than 250,000 UK theses. The British Library's central hub takes them in and digitises them, providing a single access point.

The British Library joined with partners from other EU member states to launch Europeana, Europe's digital library. The multimedia service offers free and fast access to more than four million items from Europe's libraries, museums, archives and audio-visual archives in a single interface available in all European languages.

Exhibitions and displays boosted awareness of the Library's resources of global culture and heritage. The Ramayana exhibition and an imaginative programme of associated events led the way in introducing new audiences to the Library. A significantly higher proportion of visitors from Asian, black and minority ethnic communities attended the exhibition, which celebrated the ancient Sanskrit epic. Many people shared photos through Flickr.

Among the year's outstanding exhibitions were 1968 on Record: A Year of Revolution, which combined images and sound recordings to evoke the flavour of a year of change. Bloomsbury Below Stairs painted a vivid picture of artist Vanessa Bell and the Bloomsbury Group, drawing upon the recently acquired archive of her housekeeper. Darwin and the Story of Evolution coincided with the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth. From East to West displayed some of the finest examples of East Asian printing. The Golden Generation offered an absorbing view of British theatre from 1945 to 1968 linked to a new book published by the Library. In The Sound and the Fury, recordings spanning more than a century were brought together with images from the newspaper collection to demonstrate the art and the power of public speaking.

A major exhibition and a programme of events and debates, Taking Liberties told of the 1,000 year struggle for Britain's freedoms and rights, and gave people new opportunities to express their views. Visitors could see iconic documents such as Magna Carta and the death warrant of Charles I, and read personal accounts such as suffragette Olive Wharry's prison diary. Everyone was invited to compare their opinions on today's issues such as the use of DNA databases and CCTV surveillance, either using special wristbands during their visit or by accessing the Taking Liberties interactive online site. The exhibition was a double winner in the Learning on Screen Awards 2009.

Many previously unpublished recordings were made available in new CD sets of great British and American writers. Among the highlights are the sole surviving recording of Virginia Woolf and the only recording of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. New additions to the popular series of literary spoken word CDs included Evelyn Waugh, Edith Sitwell, George Barker and Ted Hughes.

A two CD set of bird songs was also published, drawing upon the extensive wildlife collections of the British Library Sound Archive.