British Library: investment in knowledge infrastructure is vital for economic growth

British Library unveils key strategic priorities as it looks forward to celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2023.

It’s hard to believe, but the British Library is only 50 years old. It grew out of the collections inherited from the Library of the British Museum, allied a post-war vision to create a national institution which would foster research and innovation.  As the Library looks towards its fiftieth anniversary milestone in 2023, Chief Executive Roly Keating has unveiled Living Knowledge, a statement of the key strategic priorities for the next 8 years.

“The UK, in common with many developed and developing nations, is shaping an industrial strategy that puts investment in knowledge, innovation and creativity at the heart of its recipe for long-term, deep-rooted economic growth,” Keating points out in his introductory remarks. “Competitive success in such a world depends upon the freest possible flow of ideas, inspiration and information, and libraries – not just this one, but the whole, inter-connecting system across the UK, public and academic – are the vital enabler of that.”

The document sets the British Library activities within a framework of six purposes – custodianship, research, business, culture, learning, and international partnership – which demonstrate how the Library’s public funding helps to deliver tangible value.

In support of its mission to make the UK’s intellectual heritage accessible to everyone, for research, inspiration and enjoyment, the Library is embarking on a series of major projects, working with partners across the UK and internationally.

These projects include digitally preserving the nation’s 6.5 million sound recordings, extending the successful Business & IP Centres to 20 UK city libraries, and growing the diversity of the Library’s cultural and learning programmes onsite and online in ways that reach more people across the UK.

The document highlights a number of trends that are shaping the Library’s path: the revolution in the creation, analysis and exploitation of data; the move to greater openness; a growing understanding of the importance of creativity and culture; the value of high-quality physical spaces; and challenges to the budgets and operating models of libraries.

The British Library has seen a 10% increase in visits to the St Pancras building in the past 12 months. The report argues that activity in the online realm has the effect of feeding interest in the real, physical library space as well, meaning that ongoing investment is needed in both the physical estates and online services.

At the end of 2014, it was announced that St Pancras had been selected as the location for the headquarters of the Alan Turing Institute, a major new research centre for data science backed by £42 million of public investment.

More information at the Living Knowledge blog.