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It was a great privilege to be appointed as the ninth Chairman of the British Library Board on 1 September 2010. The British Library is a really marvellous institution: it is one of the world’s great libraries and it is a tremendous asset to the UK. With our unique, world-class collections and our unrivalled expertise and services – both onsite and online – the Library is an essential resource for research and we occupy an important place in the cultural life of the nation. The British Library is a highly innovative public sector organisation that underpins the knowledge economy.
I am looking forward to building on the work that the Board has accomplished under my distinguished predecessor, Sir Colin Lucas. It could be argued that I have joined the Board at a somewhat unpropitious time given the difficult economic circumstances we shall be operating under over the next four years. Whilst we welcomed the Library’s settlement in the Comprehensive Spending Review as a fair settlement in difficult times, it clearly presents huge challenges. Nevertheless the Board is fully committed to ensuring that the British Library maintains its position as a great world-class institution.
In times of financial challenge the Board believes it is essential to take the long-term view, to have a strong sense of direction of travel and priorities, and to recognise the imperative to continue to invest and to innovate. In September 2010, following a year of extensive research and consultation, we launched our 2020 Vision, setting out the British Library’s aspirations for the coming decade. The vision outlines five key themes that set out the priorities for the British Library: to guarantee access for future generations; to enable access for everyone who wants to do research; to support research communities in key areas for social and economic benefit; to enrich the cultural life of the nation; and, to lead and collaborate in growing the world’s knowledge base. In February 2011, we published Growing Knowledge: The British Library’s Strategy 2011–2015, which sets out how we intend to move toward delivering our vision over the next four years.
The Board welcomed the Government’s commitment in the Spending Review to fund the newspaper capital project in order to safeguard the future of the national newspaper collection. A key objective for the Library during the period 2011–2015 is the construction and opening in 2013 of a new state-of-the-art Newspaper Storage Building on the Library’s Boston Spa site in Yorkshire and the digitisation of up to 20 million pages from the national newspaper collection in partnership with brightsolid online publishing. There will inevitably be some disruption to service for users of the newspaper collections while this happens, but the long-term gain will be that the national newspaper collection will then be stored in the best of archival conditions and that, through the digitisation of the best of our historical collections, we shall be able to open up the collections and make them much more widely accessible on the web.
With the other UK Legal Deposit Libraries, the British Library also welcomed the Government’s response to the public consultation on the ‘draft regulations and guidance for non-print legal deposit’ and our commitment to deliver regulations for non-print content under the terms of the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003. This is an important step towards averting the danger that a digital black hole will open in Britain’s national memory by recognising that this material needs to be safeguarded for the benefit of future generations.
It has been a very good year for our fundraising activities and I would like to thank all of our donors, Patrons and Friends who have generously supported a range of innovative and inspiring British Library projects. I would particularly like to express my gratitude to the National Heritage Memorial Fund for its remarkable gift which has enabled us to begin our campaign to secure for the nation the St Cuthbert Gospel, the earliest surviving intact Western book. Digitisation of our collections continues to be a priority and, with this in mind, I am delighted that the British Library has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Qatar Foundation signalling the beginning of a long-term partnership to make available online a treasure trove of historic material in English and Arabic. In addition, thanks to the continuing generosity of The Exilarch’s Foundation, we will be able to make good progress in creating English Online, an important new resource which will transform the teaching and learning of the English language and literature in English. As the centenary of the beginning of the First World War approaches, we will be working on a Europe-wide project to create a substantial online collection of approximately 500,000 outstanding sources relating to World War One. I am extremely grateful to all of our donors for their continued commitment to the British Library.