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12 July 2017

Bricks and knowledge: my week of work experience at the British Library

Sorcha Vieyra - blog

I would say I’m not particularly a shy person, yet it’s strange how daunting the British Library can seem, partly because of its immense size, but also due to the constant hum of noise from the public going in and out of the Library – confirming just how loved it is by the public of not only London, but by people from all over the world. The British Library is, essentially, a national treasure in itself.

My week of work experience at the British Library was one that helped me both to understand the reality of the working world, and also helped me to engage with my thoughts and ambitions for the future. Although walking in admittedly terrified, due to the sheer size of the Library alone, my nerves quickly faded as I was greeted with my supervisor, Ella Snell (pictured above, right, with Sorcha, left), who instantly made me feel welcome and at ease. My first day felt like the start of secondary school all over again, the excitement of a new beginning, and the nervous butterflies of the unknown – feeling so small in such a vast area of bricks and knowledge.

My first morning consisted of the typical routine of learning the basics: what to do if a fire alarm sounds and where the exits are, what was expected of me and what opportunities the Library has to offer – in which I can safely say that the British Library provides countless opportunities as it covers so many broad areas. I worked in Corporate Affairs, and from this team alone I had meetings with the staff from marketing, the press office, staff from public and international affairs, all explaining their involvement in the library and what their jobs actually consist of. They also introduced me to curators.

The meetings were mostly 1:1’s and would usually occur over a cup of coffee and would be casual, which I greatly appreciated. It allowed me to be myself and not feel intimidated about learning something completely new, but comfortable enough to be able to interact with the team and ask questions in order to gain as much experience as I could before the week ended.

I was almost overwhelmed by how lovely everyone in the Library was, not only making me feel welcome on just the first day, but throughout the whole week, and I owe the whole team a massive thank you for really making me feel like I was part of the team and not the ‘rookie’. Throughout the entire week I was constantly kept active and accompanied with events or tasks to complete, such as touring the Library, filling in spread-sheets or learning how the library works together to keep such an impressive building, the second largest in the world, running – it’s now in its 44th year. During one of my days throughout this week, I was placed in the Humanities 1, in which I shadowed the Reading Room team and learned the process behind giving out and retrieving books, and what to do if a problem occurs, understanding the process of overcoming the problem, and in turn acknowledging how much the British Library has developed, now relying heavily on modern technology to speed up situations that would have otherwise taken days and even months to overcome manually.

Being able to do my work experience in such a positive and warm-natured atmosphere made it feel like I wasn’t actually completing the strenuous task of ‘doing work’, but was as if I was achieving a goal that I had set for myself, and inspired me to want to complete my tasks in order to feel a sense of proud accomplishment. Perhaps the frequent reminders of my “school years” being the “best of my life” may not be entirely true. Being as welcomed as I did into the Library this week, caused me to become accustomed very quickly to this new way of life I’d been routinely doing, and to say that I’ll no longer be an active part of this amazing group of people installs a sense of great sadness, but also gratitude for being able to have experienced this inspiring and thought-provoking work placement.

However, upon reflection of leaving the Library, I’ve realised that I’ll never really leave, I can always come back as a visitor or a studying student and familiarise myself with the same geometrical design of each floor, or the long corridors, or the ever-changing countless wonders and treasures that the British Library holds, all of which I will miss seeing every day. But to Ella, my supervisor, (and basically mentor that helped me through the entire week), I owe the biggest thank you possible, as I would never have been able to achieve what I have done through this experience without her guidance. Her support and kindness made this already fantastic opportunity into something that can only be described as a week of fulfilment of learning, creativity, and positivity.

So, as I leave the British Library having come to an end of my very first and very eye-opening work experience, I gain a new perspective of the ‘working world’, something I could never have been given without coming here and experiencing what exactly ‘working’ is all about. Before coming here, I was scared of starting something completely new, I was worried I wouldn’t fit in, and fearful of not being able to do whatever it was they were going to give me, but having gone through the week with such an amazing team and work placement in the Corporate Affairs Team, I can promise that my apprehensions were completely irrelevant, my experience here was the most inspiring, informative and thought-provoking week I’ve encountered. So, to my team, and all of the British Library, thank you for giving me this opportunity, and thank you for the lessons you provided alongside it – I had an amazing week.

Sorcha Vieyra

Work experience student


10 July 2017

The Library is open! Celebrating London Pride

I was privileged this weekend to join eight of my colleagues from the British Library (pictured above) and many more from the wider museums, galleries and archives sector under the Museum Pride banner, in front of an estimated 1 million people at this year’s London Pride.

The extraordinary outpouring of goodwill on the streets of London was truly inspirational. It was hard not to be struck by the incredible diversity of participants, located as we were in the Parade with groups ranging from a punk rock truck, eBay, a pack of ‘human pups’, public service unions and many more besides. It felt absolutely right that, as a group of 130 representatives of the cultural and heritage sector, we were right in the middle of that eclectic mix of perspectives under the banner of ‘Proud to represent LGBTQ+ Lives’. And it made for a very fun day for everyone involved!

It’s the first time (as far as we know) that the Library has ever participated in London Pride; certainly, the hoisting of the rainbow flag at our Grade 1 listed St Pancras site last month was a really symbolic first for us.


And earlier this summer, our Boston Spa site in Yorkshire celebrated York Pride for the first time by setting up a very successful information stall that reached new audiences.

So it’s been a year of firsts for the British Library. But why this year?

Our excellent Gay UK: Love, Law, Liberty exhibition has played a part, marking as it does a vital year in LGBTQ+ history, 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality. That milestone has been a touchstone for many cultural institutions across the country this year, with a whole host of exhibitions and events taking place. It’s a moment for reflecting on the progress made, and the distance still to travel.

And Museum Pride itself only came into being last year as a network of LGBTQ+ professionals based with museums, galleries and archives across the UK. The success of those pioneers inspired a number of other institutions such as ourselves to join the movement this year, as visible champions of LGBTQ+ lives and experience.  

But at the core of our decision to participate is our Living Knowledge vision, which challenges us to be a Library for everyone, making our intellectual heritage available to all for inspiration and education. It means being visible and passionate champions of equality, fairness and diversity, and our participation in Pride season this year has been a wonderful way to express these values.  

Pride flag for twitter smaller

On a personal note, London Pride was full of humbling moments. I couldn’t help thinking what my awkward, closeted teenage self would have made of me now – raising rainbow flags on iconic London buildings and marching alongside such utterly brilliant people and organisations, in front of a million cheering people. I think it would have been absolute disbelief!  

Rob Field

Public Policy Manager

The Library’s Gay UK: Love, Law, Liberty exhibition runs until 19 September.


16 June 2017

Mentoring and the Living Knowledge Network

Since 2012 the British Library has run a mentoring scheme, connecting mentors and mentees from across the Library’s St Pancras (London) and Boston Spa (Yorkshire) sites. 

However, with the formation of the Living Knowledge Network in September 2016, the possibilities for mentoring within the British Library have expanded. Through the Network, which sees the British Library partnering with 21 public library partners around the UK as well as the National Libraries of Scotland and Wales, the benefits of mentoring can be further shared and evolved through and with other libraries. 

Mentoring, as a process, aims to be a way for one person (the mentor) to actively encourage the development of another person (the mentee) for the benefit of both individuals and the organisation.

Mentoring relationships can be formed across any Network partners. We hope to evolve this scheme as just one element of the Living knowledge Network. As a Network we aim to work together to share resources, skills and ideas, promoting the enduring values of libraries in the twenty-first century and reinforcing the idea of the library as an accessible public asset with the power to transform people’s lives. Mentoring is just one way we hope to achieve this.


Andy Wright, Libraries Manager, Wakefield Council (Living Knowledge Network mentor) said:

“I’ve been involved with mentoring schemes for a number of years as both a mentor and a mentee, and I’m a big advocate.

“As a mentor you have a responsibility first and foremost to do what you can to ensure that the mentee benefits from the relationship, but I also value mentoring very much as a learning experience for myself. It’s amazing how something as simple as “just talking and listening”, because that’s all that it is really (albeit within an agreed framework), can be so beneficial to both parties.

“I think that the Living Knowledge Network mentoring scheme is particularly useful because it’s given me the opportunity to mentor someone from a different organisation, so as a natural part of the process I’ve learned about that organisation, what it does, how it ticks, and how that knowledge can help me professionally.

“I hope that the person I’m mentoring has gained something from my experience and also that I’ve brought a fresh perspective to issues that she has looked at previously. I see mentoring a bit like shining a torch in an already lit room – I believe that if the mentee allows the torch to shine, they can see things that, although already clearly visible, seen under a different light, gain a new clarity. That’s the value of mentoring for me.”

Carol Stump, Chief Librarian Kirklees Council, Chair of Society of Chief Librarians Yorks and Humber region (Living Knowledge Network mentor) said:

“I thought the half-day session for mentors and mentees was really useful and as a mentor it reminded me of the skills needed to be a mentor. The half-day session gave some good hints and tips and some useful templates to use on the mentoring journey.

“Being a qualified coach for my local authority it was good to explore the differences in coaching and mentoring and to think about what a mentor and a mentee role is about.

“I am keen on workforce development and think this scheme will be a good way of sharing knowledge and skills both for local authority staff and for British Library staff. I have just started mentoring and am already finding it extremely rewarding and interesting.

“Mentoring is a fairly long term commitment, anything from six months to a year but does give good opportunities for personal development and can give an alternative point of view for the mentee outside of the mentees organisation.”

Emma Cass, Copyright and Licensing Manager Publisher Relations, IP & Licensing, British Library Boston Spa (Living Knowledge Network mentee) said:

“The British Library organised a day’s training for mentors and mentees who’d signed up to the scheme. This was an opportunity to meet potential mentors as well as find out exactly what mentoring involved. The training session was really useful and I actually think it’s crucial to do some training in order to ensure that you have the right expectation of the mentoring process, so that both you and the mentor get something out of it. We learnt the difference between mentoring, counselling and coaching. One of the crucial elements is to have a specific goal, so help with a particular aspect of your career rather than a vague or incredibly wide aim. My goal was to work out how I can direct my career as I have been in the same role for a good many years.”

Staff from the British Library and Living Knowledge Network partners can find out more about the scheme by contacting

The next training day will take place in London on 15 September.

Ella Snell

Living Knowledge Network Manager