Towards a National Collection

People walking towards the main entrance of the British Library

British Library involvement in AHRC Programme Towards a National Collection

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The British Library is part of a new £19 million national programme that will take the first steps towards creating a unified virtual ‘national collection’. Funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and led by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) this five-year research programme aims to transform the way that cultural treasures and unique collections located in the UK can be discovered, accessed, researched and enjoyed by audiences across the globe.

A consortium of world-renowned museums, galleries, libraries and heritage organisations recognised by UKRI as Independent Research Organisations (IROs) will work together with other cultural organisations and universities across the UK to use digital technologies to create new opportunities for research, enable new stories to be told, and make new connections between disparate areas of the past and the present. The programme will extend collaborations between universities, regional partners and IROs to share knowledge, skills and capacity across the UK, preparing the ground for further research collaborations at both a national and international scale.

AHRC have appointed Rebecca Bailey, Head of Exhibitions and Outreach for Historic Environment Scotland, as the Programme Director, and have formally announced the eight Foundation projects that will be technology pathfinders for the first phase of the programme. The British Library is directly involved in three of these projects, working closely with other UK national heritage organisations and universities:

Persistent Identifiers as IRO Infrastructure – led by Rachael Kotarski (Head of Research Infrastructure Services at the British Library) will explore the benefits of using globally unique identifiers across collections, and how to implement them to support persistence, improve discovery, and enable tracking and citation of heritage collections.

Locating a National Collection – led by Gethin Rees (Curator Digital Map Collections at the British Library) will investigate how combining geo-spatial metadata across collections can open up new forms of research, engagement and interaction for different audiences.

Practical Applications of IIIF as a Building Block Towards a Digital National Collection – led by the National Gallery with Torsten Reimer, Head of Research Services at the British Library, will examine use of the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) as a pathway to creating high quality, interactive image resources and tools across digital collections.

Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library and Chair of the Towards a National Collection (TaNC) Steering Committee, says:

This programme aims to understand and address some of the key challenges that stand in the way of collections working together at scale in the digital age, and unlock these cultural assets for new research purposes and audiences online.

This is a huge challenge but with the significant investment of UKRI and AHRC through this programme, we can begin to explore what the future of a national collection might be.

For more information, or if you are interested in collaborating with the British Library in development of a Discovery Project, please visit our Towards a National Collection project page.

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