Borrowing collection items for public exhibition

How to borrow collection items from the British Library for public exhibition.

The British Library lends objects to other institutions for exhibitions in the UK and abroad.

This statement explains how to borrow items from the British Library and the general conditions that borrowers must fulfil.

1. Commitment to lend

Under the terms of the 1972 British Library Act, the British Library Board may “subject to such restrictions and conditions as they think necessary to safeguard their collections, lend any item, and make any part of their collections, or of their premises, available in connection with events of an educational, literary or cultural nature”.

As such, the British Library lends objects to exhibitions in the UK and abroad.

This document aims to provide prospective borrowers with information on how to borrow from the British Library. It also explains the general conditions that borrowers must fulfil. These conditions (in section 6) should be factored into exhibition preparation and budgeting.

Queries arising from this document should be directed to the British Library's Loans Registrar (section 7).

2. Who can borrow?

Loans are made to public exhibitions within the UK and abroad.

We do not lend to private or commercial exhibitions.

We do not normally lend to inaugural exhibitions in new and untested venues. If we consider doing so, the Library will take steps to ensure that the venue can fully meet our conditions of loan. This may involve an inspection visit prior to agreeing the loan.

3. How to request the loan

To enable the Library to balance its overall obligations and in order to prepare the loan, we do require a formal and final loan request at least six months in advance of the exhibition.

To prepare for this request, borrowers should contact the Loans Registrar.

The formal written request, addressed to the Loans Manager, should contain the following information:

  • Exhibition dates
  • Venue details, including contact name, telephone and email
  • Full object description with the shelf mark or reference number. The folio/page opening is essential
  • The exhibition scenario explaining the context of the object within the exhibition.

4. Lending criteria

We do our best to support loan requests. In deciding to lend we have to consider:
  • The preservation needs of the object
  • The resources available to expedite the loan
  • If the absence of the object will be detrimental to our public programmes or greatly disappoint our readers.

5. Consideration and contract

The request will be considered and the decision communicated to the applicant as soon as possible.

If an application is successful, the borrower will be required to meet our general conditions of loan (section 6).

The loan will also be contingent upon the borrower satisfying specific conditions tailored to the precise circumstances of each loan. These conditions will form the loan contract, drawn up by the Loans Manager and agreed by the borrower.

6. General conditions of loan

The Library holds collections in trust for the nation. Part of our statutory obligation is to ensure the safety, security and ongoing preservation of objects within our care. To accomplish this, the following conditions, which reflect international museum and library standards, are mandatory.

6.1 Compliance with international ethical standards

The borrower will be asked to declare that no item in its collections or in the proposed exhibition, or the manner in which, British Library property is to be treated, will contravene the International Council of Museums Code of Ethics. The Library reserves the right to terminate, at its discretion and without notice, without cost and without prejudice to itself corporately or individually, any loan to any exhibition where the borrower has inadvertently, deliberately or otherwise failed to disclose the provenance or lack of provenance of material to be exhibited alongside British Library property, or where the borrower has acted so as to further or support the trade in illicit cultural property.

6.2 Immunity from seizure

In countries where immunity from seizure statutes and/or regulations are in force, it is the responsibility of the borrower to ensure that British Library property loaned to them is covered by such provisions. Where the borrower has failed to do so, liability for any consequent loss to the Library will lie with the borrower.

6.3 Security

Loans will only be made to a venue that has been approved by the National Security Adviser, Arts Council England (ACE).

The National Security Adviser will contact the Borrower in order to make the assessment.

The minimum requirements for security can be obtained in fact sheet form from the ACE.

6.4 Environment and display

Specific environment and display requirements for each object will be outlined in the Loan Contract.

For your guidance, however, the environment in the gallery and store must be stable and should fall within these parameters (PD 5454: 2012 Guide for the storage and exhibition of archival material):
    • The temperature will be between 18ºC and 21ºC (centigrade) with fluctuations of no more than +/- 1°C per 24 hours
    • The relative humidity will be between 45% and 55% with fluctuations of no more than +/- 5% per 24 hours
    • The light levels will not exceed 50 lux with the proportion of ultraviolet not exceeding 10 microwatts per lumen.
On arrival at the venue, a period of time, usually 24 hours, will be required for the objects to acclimatise before being unpacked and installed.
Objects will not be sited near ventilation ducts, draughts, or sources of heat.

The Library must approve all methods and materials used in the display. Case elevations and gallery plans will be submitted to the Loans Registrar for consideration.

In accordance with standards set by the National Security Adviser, Arts Council England, small portable objects must be exhibited in locked display cases which should be fitted with anti-bandit laminated glazing meeting British Standard BS 5544 and EN 356 P3A. This glazing will be at least 11.3mm thick or greater. The use of 12 mm acrylic material may be permitted as an alternative. Very valuable objects will require a case that meets EN 356 P6B. The cases must be fitted with alarm devices. The cases must be secured in a manner approved by the National Security Adviser and the British Library.

Textiles that are used to line display cases must be tested and approved by the Department of Scientific Research at the British Museum (see section 8).

6.5 Smoking, food and drink

Smoking, food and drink are strictly forbidden in any exhibition space containing Library loans.

6.6 Packing and transport

The borrower will bear the cost of all packing and transport and appoint experienced fine art agents in the UK (and, where applicable, abroad), to undertake this work.

Transport will be by the most direct route and adhere to the minimum requirements set out by the National Security Adviser, Arts Council England (ACE). These requirements can be obtained in fact-sheet form from the ACE.

The Loans Manager will approve all arrangements, including the choice of fine art agents, before the borrower appoints the agents.

For international loans, the fine art agents will arrange all customs and security clearance and ensure that the courier (section 6.7) is given assistance at all ports of entry and exit.

The Library will arrange for the loan to be packed.

6.7 The courier / Library representatives escorting loans

A courier will escort the loan in transit and, upon arrival at the venue, will undertake or supervise unpacking, physical examination and installation.

More than one courier may be required, depending on the size and complexity of the loan.

Delivery and installation will take place just prior to the exhibition opening.

The courier will have authority over all business relating to the loan. If the Loan Contract is breached, the courier may, at any point, return to the Library with the loan.

When escorting the loan and travelling by air, the courier will fly business class. The purchase of an extra seat will be necessary for hand-carried consignments.

The borrower will arrange and pay for the courier's hotel and give the courier a pre-agreed amount of money to cover food and sundry expenses. This will be given to the courier, in cash, immediately upon arrival.

6.8 Insurance and indemnity

Loans will be covered either by UK Government Indemnity or by commercial fine art insurance.

The UK Government Indemnity Scheme facilitates loans within the UK by removing the need for borrowers to obtain commercial insurance if the conditions of loan are met and security at the venue meets with the approval of the National Security Adviser, ACE.

Normal arrangements are as follows:
  • To government-funded institutions (UK Nationals) - The Library will normally bear the risk of loss of an object. If damage occurs, however, the borrower will bear the cost of repair.
  • To other UK venues - The Library may waive the need for commercial insurance if the conditions of loan are met. The borrower, however, will bear a minimum liability that will be outlined in the Loan Contract.
  • International loans - A fine art insurance broker, named and instructed by the Library, will underwrite the loan. The premium for this will be borne by the borrower. The Library will also consider foreign government indemnities.
All arrangements will be made by the Loans Manager.

6.9 Cost

The borrower will bear the following costs without limit:

    • Transport and packing
    • Manufacture of bespoke display cradles/supports
    • Insurance or minimum liability
    • Travel tickets and insurance, hotel and subsistence allowance
    • Security photography.
The cost of conservation is normally borne by the Library. If the loan is to proceed, and the resources required to prepare it are considerable, the borrower may be required to bear all, or part of the cost.

6.10 Photography, filming and reproduction

If no security photography or digital scan exists, a surrogate of the object must be made before the loan is dispatched. This will be arranged automatically by the Loans Manager who will invoice the Borrower direct for this. Payment for this work must reach British Library Imaging Services no less than two months before the loan dispatch date.

Images for reproduction can be obtained from British Library Imaging Services. The borrower should contact British Library Imaging Services regarding charges, licensing and copyright. Orders for reproductions/permissions should be made online.

Filming is not permitted for commercial purposes.

Permission to film for promotional or educational purposes must be sought, in advance, from the Loans Manager.

6.11 Media

The borrower may not make news of an upcoming loan public in the media, events or on social media, until agreed with the British Library.

All media announcements relating to a loan should be sent to the British Library for review and approval before publication.

6.12 Publication right

Where an object has not been published and is then published or displayed to the public by the borrower, all publication rights will be assigned back to the British Library.

6.13 Cancellation

If the loan is cancelled, for whatever reason, all reasonable costs will be borne by the borrower.

7. Library Contacts

Loans Manager:

Barbara O'Connor
T +44 (0)20 7412 7561
F +44 (0)20 7412 7787

British Library Imaging Services:

8. Useful External Contacts

Advice on indemnity:

Government Indemnity Scheme Manager
Arts Council England
T+ 44 (0)121 631 5716

Advice on security, transport and environment:

National Security Adviser
Arts Council England
T + 44 (0)121 631 5736

Advice on materials testing:

The Department of Scientific Research
The British Museum
T +44 (0)20 7323 8279

Advice on combating illicit trade, and due diligence:

Arts Council England
Acquisition, Export and Loans Unit
+ 44 (0)20 7973 5188/5228/5387/5194/5241