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

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Gabrielle Walker's profile

Climate change expert
Freelance consultant, London

Profile information

  • Networks:
    BBC, New Scientist, Nature, Government Office of Science
  • City of residence:
  • Place of work:
  • Expertise:
    Climate change, The South Pole
Gabrielle Walker

‘It’s not about “Sssh!”. It’s about “What do you need?” and “How can I help you?”’

When science writer and broadcaster Dr Gabrielle Walker is not travelling the world doing research she is frequently to be found working at the British Library. Specialising in energy and climate change, Dr Walker makes radio series for the BBC and appears on television. Her books include The Hot Topic, about how to tackle global warming, co-written with Sir David King, and An Ocean of Air, described as a ‘natural history of the atmosphere’.

‘The British Library has been essential for all of them,’ she says. ‘One of the things that’s special about working here is that you can go right across the board. The kind of science I write about, it’s not just a little bit of physics or a bit of chemistry, it’s everything at once. You need somewhere where you can turn to science but also politics, history, stories and put them together, and this is one of the few places in the world you can do that.’

Explaining her approach, she adds: ‘It’s not just about saying this is the way that science works, or the way the world works, it’s about trying to get inside people’s heads, to show their motivations and inspirations, so that you read it as a story.’

For her forthcoming book about Antarctica and associated environmental issues, Dr Walker has combined several visits to the South Pole with research and writing at the British Library. ‘I come back here to gather my thoughts in the Reading Rooms – a tremendously conducive place to work. But also to look up things that I can’t get any other way; some of the old books about explorers in Antarctica, scientific research that’s been done there and getting access to the papers as well.’

The way the Library shares knowledge provides inspiration. ‘I love the way the exhibitions are open to anyone. It’s very democratic. I would also say that I have had nothing but good experiences with staff. People are always trying to help you find things. It’s not about “Sssh!”. It’s about “What do you need?” and “How can I help you?” That’s what makes it such a great place to work.’

My postings

Gabrielle Walker

My book in the making

July 2009

I am writing a book that will weave together science, geography, history and culture to reveal the two faces of Antarctica. It is the most alien place on Earth, and yet its history and fate are intimately bound up with those of the rest of our world.

Gabrielle Walker

Past endurance

July 2009

On my fifth trip to Antarctica I travelled for six weeks on the Royal Navy Icebreaker HMS Endurance, to make radio programmes for the BBC. Here’s one of my programmes on the most remarkable survival tales from an early polar explorer. I’ve also answered schoolchildren’s questions on the challenges I’ve faced at the South Pole.

From a climate change conference to Costa Rican cloud forests

June 2009

A few weeks ago I was in Norway, chairing a conference about the climate measures we need our politicians to agree to, when they meet at the end of the year in Copenhagen. Earlier, I visited the cloud forests of Costa Rica, whose gorgeous golden toad is the first species in the world known to have become extinct due to climate change. Sadly, it won’t be the last.


My planned trip to St Petersburg

July 2009

I am hoping to visit St Petersburg later this year to talk to some of the old Antarctic hands there. Russia has been operating in Antarctica for more than 50 years, often under great difficulty, and some of the best stories about the early part of this era exist only in the heads of the few people remaining who lived through it.