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Sir Colin Lucas

Chairman of the British Library

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As I come to the end of my appointment as Chairman of the British Library Board, I am minded to reflect on some of the major achievements of this great institution during my tenure.

In October 2007 we celebrated the opening of the British Library Centre for Conservation which provides a world-leading facility for book conservation and state-of-the-art technical facilities for the preservation of our recorded sound collection.

We have taken significant steps in recent years to improve the quality of the British Library’s collection storage facilities. The construction of a major new £26 million storage building at Boston Spa is now complete, and the building was opened by the Minister for Yorkshire and The Humber in December 2009. The new storage facility will provide 262 linear kilometres of high density, preservation standard storage, with fully automated retrieval systems, and growth space for the next decade.

Last October, we received a very welcome commitment of £33 million of capital funding from the Government to move the national newspaper collection – currently held in Colindale, north London – to a new Newspaper Storage Building, also to be constructed on the Boston Spa site, which will hold our newspaper collection in the best of archival conditions. Newspapers are an immensely rich source for research. They deteriorate quickly because of the poor quality of the paper they are printed on; it is crucial that they are properly preserved for future generations. This is one element of our newspaper strategy – our ambition is to digitise the best of our historical collections, to open up the collections and make them much more widely accessible on the web. The Library’s partnership agreement with brightsolid online publishing to digitise up to 40 million pages from the national newspaper collection over ten years is a major step towards realising that ambition. Meantime the digital assets in the Library’s collections currently occupy in excess of 52 terabytes of digital storage. And the Board welcomed progress towards obtaining legal deposit for electronic publications.

During my term of appointment we have seen some highly successful and distinctive British Library exhibitions. As I write we are experiencing high visitor numbers for our new exhibition, Magnificent Maps: Power, Propaganda and Art but if I had to single out a particular exhibition, it would be Sacred: Discover what we share, which in 2007 displayed some of the world’s earliest, most important, and beautiful religious texts from the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths. 

At the heart of this great Library is its enduring commitment to scholarship, collections and collecting. The fruits of this commitment to scholarship are seen when, for example, Frances Harris a senior manuscripts curator was awarded the Samuel Pepys prize for her book, Transformations of Love, or when Kristian Jensen delivered the 2007/08 Lyell Lectures in bibliography at Oxford University. The Review of the Scholarship and Collections directorate is designed to strengthen its capacity and to ensure the Library will be a leading centre of digital scholarship and preservation, internationally recognised for innovation and collaboration in support of research and learning. During my tenure we have been fortunate to acquire a number of very significant acquisitions. Notable amongst these were the literary papers of Harold Pinter, Ted Hughes, and Mervyn Peake, the photographic archives of William Fox Talbot and Fay Godwin, and the Dering Roll, the oldest extant English roll of arms. Looking forward from these 'broad sunlit uplands', we have been undertaking a major programme of strategy development – taking account of the dynamic market in which the Library now operates, with technology applications and consumer behaviours changing more rapidly than ever before – to articulate the Library’s operating environment in 2020 and to develop a 2020 vision for the British Library. At the same time, it is clear that we face a deeply uncertain and highly constrained public sector funding environment.  While we have already achieved major efficiency savings and have adopted innovative business models and partnerships to support our core activities, I think it inevitable that the Board will face extremely difficult decisions going forward as it addresses the twin challenges of sustaining the Library’s stewardship legacy for future generations and its reputation as a world-leading research library, while also ensuring that the Library’s contribution to research and scholarly enterprise remains vibrant, innovative and relevant for future generations.

In this context, it is immensely gratifying to see the breadth and warmth of support for the Library. The British Library is a wonderful library. It is one of the world’s greatest research libraries and an enormous asset to this nation. I count it a great privilege to have been associated with the Library for the past six and a half years both as Board member and as Chairman.

Finally I would like to thank all of our donors, Patrons and Friends for their support. In particular, the Dorset Foundation for its generous grant, enabling us to complete our fundraising for a new and much needed Learning Centre. I would also like to express our gratitude to the National Heritage Memorial Fund, as well as the many individuals and trusts, who supported our appeals for Sir John Narbrough's Journal and the Mervyn Peake Archive. In addition, as we continue our focus on building the digital research environment, I would like to acknowledge the Stavros S Niarchos Foundation and William and Judith Bollinger for their ongoing support and generosity towards making our manuscript collections available online.

Sir Colin Lucas
Chief Executive

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