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Further information

This note describes the methodology for the project we undertook to develop our 2020 vision. It provides pointers to some relevant documents that may be of value to those with an interest in the methodology.


At the outset, we decided to develop a vision setting out what it means to be a great library in 2020. Given that our ambition was to develop a vision over a long-term time horizon, we wanted to be sure we were doing this in a best-practice, benchmarked manner, and we worked with strategy consultants Value Partners,[1] who advised on the methodological tools we should use. Staff at the British Library, headed by the Strategy and Planning team, implemented the vision development process using this suite of tools.

Value Partners proposed a four-phase approach to vision development:

  • Phase 1: What do we need to do? - Structuring the issues
  • Phase 2: Where could we go? - Developing hypotheses/scenarios
  • Phase 3: Where should we go? - Undertaking strategic options analysis and developing the vision
  • Phase 4: How do we get there? - Developing a strategic roadmap

Value Partners provided us with a range of tools to select from as we developed our vision. See attached PDF for the full set of methodological tools.

We defined three main outputs from our project:

  1. An understanding of the operating environment in 2020
  2. The Library’s 2020 vision
  3. A roadmap for organisational transformation

Phase 1: What do we need to do?

Governance structure

The Library’s Strategy and Planning Team, along with three colleagues from other parts of the Library, provided the core team for the project. -The core team, led by the Head of Strategy and Planning, drove and co-ordinated the project.  The Library’s Executive Team (consisting of the Chief Executive and Directors) provided critical thinking throughout the project and made final recommendations to the Library’s Board. The Board provided input to decisions on critical issues and endorsed outputs at the end of each phase of the project. The Library’s Advisory Council advised on critical issues. An internal Extended Team made up of senior managers led the research phase. 

A Consultative Panel of external experts was set up to provide a sounding board and guidance throughout the project. In addition, we conducted one-to-one interviews with a range of experts to develop a rich tapestry about the environment in which the Library could be operating in 2020 and what this might mean. We also spent a day at the University of Leicester, interviewing a range of experts on a one-to-one basis. See attached PDFs for membership of the Consultative Panel and the external experts involved in the project, and for a summary of the insights obtained from the experts we interviewed.

Engagement with staff across the Library took place throughout the project in the form of a series of workshops held across the Library’s main sites. Trade Union Side was kept abreast of developments during the course of the project.


We planned the project with a start date of June 2009, allowing approximately one year for completion. Each Phase took an elapsed time of three months to complete.


An early task was to position the Library against a series of parameters, or key differentiators, which we used to depict the Library’s current and possible future positioning. We developed four possible 2020 visions for the Library, based upon a 2x2 matrix depicting two of the parameters which we felt were the most dynamic and important for the Library. We selected as the parameters ‘Access to Content’ (from onsite to virtual) and ‘Services’ (from basic to sophisticated), and defined four possible visions – “Evolution”, “Networked partnership”, “Physical research hub” and “Virtual British Library”. In other respects, this work provided the initial means of engaging internal and external colleagues with the project and of thinking about the possibilities for our future positioning.

Question tree

We used the “Question Tree” tool to articulate the key research questions for the project:

  • What is the British Library’s current position?
  • What macro-environmental trends are likely to impact the British Library?
  • How will changing user behaviour impact the British Library?
  • How will the information market develop to meet these trends?
  • What are our possible options for our vision? Which is the most attractive and the most achievable?
  • What change does the Library need to implement and how should we go about it?

We translated this question tree into a series of research domains and then into a detailed research plan consisting of literature reviews, desk research, interviews, surveys and workshops.

Phase 2: Where could we go?

Research plan

We developed a research plan which set out the internal and external factors that we needed to address in terms of how they might change over the period to 2020. We undertook research in the following areas:

Internal environment

  • A description of our current role and remit, and suggestions as to how we should seek to re-interpret our role and remit for the digital age
  • A segmentation of existing customer groups and potential new customer groups
  • An assessment of demand for, and usage of, the British Library’s existing content
  • Forecasts of the continuing growth of print intake, electronic  intake, digitised content (based on current programmes), and the implications of these for storage and processing expenditure
  • Analysis of our current resource allocation, staffing, skills base and internal opportunities and constraints
  • A qualitative assessment of the gap between income and expenditure requirements under different operating environment scenarios for the Library

External environment

  • Research into user requirements within existing user segments in 2020 and key trends in addressable segments
  • A horizon scan of the operating environment (Political Economic Social Technological Legal and Environmental factors, library landscape and demand, search and discovery, delivery and access, broad technology trends, content creation trends, publishing and content business models and scholarly communication trends)
  • Analysis of the likely 2020 public funding environment, likely future business models and an assessment of potential future income streams

Each research stream was led by a member of the Extended Team, and sponsored by a member of the Executive Team. Each research team leader was provided with a series of questions to guide the research, together with suggested sources of information and people to contact.

Before launching the work on these research streams, we explored the possibility of undertaking the research through a range of hypotheses about the likely operating environment for the Library in 2020. The reason for developing hypotheses would have been to help look to the end of the project, identifying topics of priority in which high levels of uncertainty existed, and using these to test a set of tentative conclusions. However, we were unable to reach agreement on the hypotheses to test and therefore decided to undertake more wide-ranging pieces of research than might have been the case had appropriate hypotheses been identified.

Research outputs

The outputs from the externally facing research themes, together with the outputs from external experts, were used to present the Library’s view of the world in which it would be operating in 2020. In other words, these enabled the Library to deliver its first output from this project. The outputs from both sets of research themes were used to inform the vision development. See attached PDF for a summary of the research undertaken into the 2020 landscape, and a summary of a selection of individual research outputs.

  • Content Use – This paper provides an overview of the Library’s content, its strengths and weaknesses, and trends in collecting and content looking ahead to 2020.
  • Socio-Economic, Policy and Research Funding Environment – This paper examines the emerging social, economic, policy and research funding trends which are likely to impact the Library through to 2020.
  • Universities, Research and Higher Education – This paper provides an overview of emerging trends in the HE sector, implications for the Library and sketches out some potential ways in which the BL may develop in support of UK higher education and research.
  • Technology and Supporting Infrastructure – This paper highlights nine critical technology factors which will significantly impact the way in which the Library discharges its remit by 2020.
  • Library Environment – This paper investigates trends within the library landscape including consumer demand, expected consolidation and disintermediation.
  • Search, Discovery and Delivery – This paper examines the current search and discovery landscape and highlights the emerging trends.

Phase 3: Where should we go?

Based upon the research carried out and other information (relevant legislation, Government initiatives and so on), the governance groups for this project were invited to address key strategic choices for the Library. In addition, the Executive Team completed a questionnaire on the Library’s future positioning in terms of role and remit, users, content, funding/business models and products/services. We held workshops with the Executive and Consultative Panel on these issues.

We also discussed via workshops a number of possible options for elements of our vision:

  • Preservation of personal data and user-generated content
  • Commercial digital storage and preservation
  • Library services provided through third parties
  • Library services provided through public sector channels
  • Value-added research services.

The results of these initiatives enabled us to develop broad areas of agreement on the directions of travel the Library should undertake. They also enabled us to begin to articulate a number of strands of the vision around three areas of ‘flex’:

  • The balance between an archiving and an access focus
  • The balance between serving a broad group and targeting specific user groups
  • The balance between working on our own and working in partnership

By layering these directions of travel with the Library’s statutory responsibilities and ancillary activities we articulated five critical vision themes which, when taken together, present the Library’s vision to 2020. These are:

  • Guarantee access for future generations
  • Enable access to everyone who wants to do research
  • Support research communities in key areas for social and economic benefit
  • Enrich the cultural life of the nation
  • Lead and collaborate in growing the world’s knowledge base.

The resulting 2020 vision provided the second output of this project.

Mission statement and core values

Our mission statement was adjusted a few years ago from ‘Helping people advance knowledge to enrich lives’ to the crisper statement ‘Advancing the world’s knowledge’. We decided to keep this as our mission statement as it represents our persistent desire to focus on knowledge advancement.

We have re-stated our values based on the behaviours we will need to have at the heart of everything that we do in order to achieve our 2020 vision. We have incorporated these into our 2020 vision document.

Phase 4: How do we get there?

The purpose of this final phase was to plot goals and milestones and break these down into manageable chunks. To this end, we defined key areas of focus and began to set out what we needed to do over three periods.  We focused on the first period, namely the four-years 2011 to 2015, to coincide with the period covered by the Government’s current Spending Review. We are using this work to help us develop our Corporate Strategy, 2011-15. At the time of writing, this is work-in-progress and will be completed after we have heard the outcome of our funding settlement and have determined what we can deliver over the next four years. The strategic roadmap provides our third and final output for this project.


We succeeded in developing our vision within the timescale we set a year ago. Our vision charts a course between the likely boundaries of an uncertain and dynamic operating environment, in a flexible way which takes acceptable risks. The success of this work will ultimately be judged by the extent to which our successive strategies covering the period 2011-2020 take us towards achieving our vision, and the extent to which we are able to deliver those strategies.

Information on our expert contributors

We consulted extensively throughout the development of our 2020 vision.

We conducted in-depth interviews with experts from the public, private and not-for-profit sectors spanning research, learning, publishing, information and technology.  

We also set up a Consultative Panel of researchers and key stakeholders, including members of the British Library Board and Advisory Council, who provided a sounding board throughout and participated in a number of workshops during the project

We are grateful to all the people listed below for their significant contribution to our 2020 Vision.

[1] Value Partners is a global management consulting firm, among the leaders in Europe. It draws on 50 partners and 3,000 professionals, working out of 15 offices in 12 countries. Value Partners has a wide set of capabilities, including corporate strategy.

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