Towards a National Collection

Etching in black ink on unbleached paper showing multiple views of towns in England and Wales
Wenceslaus Hollar, "An Orthographical Designe of Several Views Upon Ye Road, in England and Wales" (London: sold by John Overton, 1660). Etching. Maps K.Top.6.61.

British Library involvement in AHRC Programme Towards a National Collection

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The British Library is part of the £19 million national programme, Towards a National Collection, which takes the first steps towards creating a unified virtual ‘national collection’. Funded by UK Research and Innovation 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) is working 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.

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

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.

With significant investment of UKRI and AHRC, we can begin to generate radically different ways of doing research across collections, redefining how individuals and communities can engage and interact with UK heritage, and in doing so enrich our understanding of what a national collection might actually be.

Foundation Projects

Row of books with the word "Informed" spelt across them.

The first phase of the programme runs 2020–22 and comprises eight foundation projects that investigate technology pathfinders. 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 (the Library’s Head of Research Infrastructure Services) – 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 (the Library’s Lead Curator Digital Map Collections) – 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 (the Library’s Head of Research Services) – 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.

The themes for the eight foundation projects reflect the aspirations and challenges we have in the evolution of the digital heritage collections of the British Library and other organisations in this space.

If you would like to know more about the foundation projects listed above and how to get involved, please email the Research Development Team

Discovery projects

Three children, two are brushing the hair of the child in front of them.

The most substantial portion of funding (circa £14.5 million) for the programme supports five large-scale interdisciplinary ‘discovery’ research projects, commencing late 2021 and running for up to three years.

Each of these projects involves a core collaboration between one or more AHRC IROs, UK Higher Education Institutions, as well as local and regional cultural, third sector, community and technology partners.

The Library is pleased to be an invited Project Partner on one of these projects, The Sloane Lab, which is led by University College London and the British Museum.

As the programme’s name implies, Towards a National Collection, is a journey and the Library is excited and pleased to be taking that journey with its partners and collaborators, past, present and future.

Images from the British Library's Flickr Commons of public domain images.