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Behind the scenes at the British Library

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Experts and directors at the British Library blog about strategy, key projects and future plans Read more

15 October 2021

Meet the Maker: Eleanor Stuart

In our Meet the Maker blog series, we profile the independent creative businesses behind some of our product ranges in the British Library Shop (both online and at our St Pancras, London site). This month, we meet Eleanor Stuart, who designed our new Book Lovers Christmas jumper, baubles, and greeting cards.

Pop up shop

Eleanor is an illustrator and designer based in East London, who creates bold, fun and colourful designs with the aim of bringing a smile and a bit of joy to people’s lives.

‘I gather inspiration from a wide range of sources and am always collecting ideas and images from galleries, literature, shops and across the internet. I find I can be inspired by anything from Banksy to a random window display I've seen so I'm always on the lookout for something new. I keep an ongoing book of ideas and products I'd love to create so there's always something keeping me busy!’

Drawing pic

The business started back in 2013, with the first collection based on Alice in Wonderland. The British Library Shop was one of Eleanor’s first stockists, with a selection of her plates forming part of an Alice-themed range. Eleanor used the Library’s online collection as inspiration for the range – you can find out more about this in her case study video.

Santa Claus Books Card

Almost a year ago, we met with Eleanor to talk about bespoke book baubles for our 2021 Christmas range, which expanded into Eleanor adapting some of her Christmas card designs to give them a book-lovers spin, and turning these into gift wrap. We liked the initial designs so much we asked Eleanor if she would design our new Christmas jumper too!

‘It was my first time designing a jumper and I loved it. I was lucky that the British Library team gave me quite an open brief for the design but obviously it had to be festive and book themed!’

After ‘a bit of a light bulb moment’ whilst singing Mariah Carey’s classic All I Want for Christmas Is You, Eleanor gave the song a literary twist and the jumper design was born. Made in the UK from cosy knitted acrylic, we love the Book Lovers’ Christmas jumper, and have been delighted with the really positive feedback and great sales since its launch earlier this month.

Books Jumper Lifestyle WEB

‘Being stocked in the British Library shop is particularly special to me because it's one of the first shops I supplied and it made me feel so excited to see my products in a real shop! It's also always meant a lot to me to supply and support such an iconic British institution.’

So what’s next for Eleanor? She has recently moved into a new studio, and, having worked ‘from kitchen tables to windowless self-storage rooms and everything in between’, Eleanor’s delighted to have a beautiful space for her growing business. There’s also the launch of more textiles, mugs and tea towels to look forward to, along with Christmas sacks and stockings. Eleanor would also ‘love to get a dog to bring to the studio if that counts as business planning!’

Studio

Eleanor’s advice for anyone starting out with their own business?

‘I would say find a way to just get out there and start doing it, even in a small way. I know when I started it was easy to get bogged down by all the 'what if's' and I realised that I just needed to get my work out there and see what happened and what people thought of it. I started very small doing local craft fairs where people seemed to love my products, then I grew to pop up shops and trade shows and now nearly 10 years on it's a full-time business.’

Browse the British Library Shop’s Eleanor Stuart range

Visit Eleanor’s website

Follow Eleanor on Instagram

10 October 2021

Library Lives: Liz Jolly, British Library Boston Spa and St Pancras

‘When I was growing up, libraries were an escape into a whole world of imagination that I hadn’t known existed before.’


Concluding Libraries Week 2021, and part of our new series Library Lives, we speak to our Chief Librarian of the British Library, Liz Jolly about how libraries have changed and their role in improving people’s lives.

Where was your local library growing up?

My local library was Winchmore Hill public library in the borough of Enfield, Greater London. It was also the place I had my first Saturday job.

What’s your favourite thing to do in a library?

I think libraries are about learning, so my favourite thing is to learn with other people, and with an amazing variety of resources in all formats.

What’s your favourite library in the UK?

Manchester Central Library. I was a student there in the 1980s before university libraries were open at the weekend and I spent many Saturdays there. Actually, I spent many Saturdays there putting my books down and going off shopping in town! But I did also spend some time looking at the amazing domed ceiling and with its quotation, "Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom; and with all thy getting, get understanding".

Which library would you love to visit?

I’d really like to visit the Oodi, the new Central Library in Helsinki, Finland.
What three words would you choose to sum up being a librarian?
Facilitating, learning and communities.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I wanted to be a train driver.

What don’t people know about libraries?

I suspect that people think about libraries as being all about books. I think that libraries are about learning. The library academic David Lankes has written that ‘the mission of librarians is to facilitate knowledge creation in their communities’, and I think that this sums up what we’re about: far more than thinking just about collections, just about quiet spaces, and just about staff.
Libraries are where all these things interact and are very much about the people and the communities they serve.

What’s your favourite book?

My favourite book, which I’ve recently discovered, is The Street by Ann Petry. This tells the story of a Black single mother in New York in the 1940s.

Who is your favourite fictional librarian?

Serena Laburnam heroine of The Librarian and the Robbers by Margaret Mahy. She's a fantastic role model. 

What did libraries mean to you growing up?

I grew up in a household that couldn’t afford books, so a library was a place where anyone could have access to books, so it was an escape into a whole world of imagination that I hadn’t known existed before.

As I got older and became interested in societal issues, libraries became somewhere for me that would enable people to learn, both in terms of academic success and learning to ‘be’ - in the Carl Rogers sense. For me they became a key element in creating a more just, fair and equal society.

How have things changed in libraries since you qualified?

Things have changed dramatically. When I qualified in 1990, libraries were very much seen as places where one went to do quiet, silent, individual study and librarians were gatekeepers of information and knowledge.

I think it was assumed, particularly in the higher education sector where my background is, that people learnt in a certain way, which was silent, individual study. Over the past 30 years I think research has proved that learning happens in multiple ways and that libraries need to reflect that in the way that they are designed, in the spaces that they provide, and in the way that staff interact with their communities.

Interview by Ellen Morgan / Hannah Gabrielle


We spoke to people who have professional registration status as a librarian via the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals or who have an academic qualification such as a first degree, a postgraduate diploma or a Master’s degree in library and information studies or librarianship.
Is this you? If you’d like to feature in Library Lives, get in touch with [email protected]
Would you like this to be you? Find out more about becoming a librarian on the CILIP website

08 October 2021

Library Lives: Sally Halper, British Library St Pancras

‘It’s the joy of helping people to find answers to their questions. Not just giving them the answer, but enabling them to find the information for themselves.’

Continuing our Libraries Week launch of our new series, Library Lives, we meet Sally Halper, qualified librarian and Head of Content Strategy and Services at the British Library.

Where was your local library growing up?

My local library was in Leeds. It was the old branch library in Headingley, which was called Bennett Road library, and it was amazing. It was like a TARDIS, because it was actually quite a small building but on the inside it seemed much bigger, and it had an element of Hogwarts because it had lots of high shelves and tons and tons of books. It’s been replaced now with something more modern and bright and airy, which I also loved.

Why did you want to become a librarian?

My first work experience, when I was 16, was at Leeds Central Lending Library and that experience working for a month at the lending desk was so much fun and so interesting. I particularly enjoyed dealing with the public – they could come in and ask you literally anything and being able to help them to find the answers to their questions just really set me off on a path of loving libraries.

What does your current job involve?

I lead the development of the Library’s contemporary content strategy, which covers everything that’s been published since 1945, and I commission user research to help inform our strategy.

Do you have a favourite item in the Library’s collection?

That’s really hard to answer where there are so many millions of items in the collection! But for me it has to be our remote access content – that’s digital content that our Readers and other customers can access from outside the building. Over the last 18 months that has been so important, during lockdown.

Do you have a favourite or unexpected enquiry that you’ve helped someone with?

In my early days working at the British Library, I helped to answer an enquiry about chemical formulae for ancient perfumes for a gentleman was looking to restart his grandfather’s business, which had been a big manufacturer of perfumes here in the UK. It was a fascinating enquiry to work on, partly because of his enthusiasm and because it was for a business start-up. I have a background in business and management, so that’s something that I care a lot about.

What's your favourite thing that you can do in a library?

It’s the joy of helping people to find answers to their questions. Not just giving them the answer, but enabling them to find the information for themselves. Working directly with the public and getting to the end of that journey with them and seeing how pleased they are with the end result.

What do you think makes a good librarian?

Patience. Not leaping in and trying to answer a patron’s question without asking a few more questions first, to properly understand what they need. And having a great knowledge of all the different resources available.

How have things changed in libraries since you qualified?

I qualified as a chartered librarian in 2008. Since then the main change has been, obviously, technological. The scale and complexity of the different publications we now deal with has been the biggest change. It’s a really positive thing though, as it provides access for people without them having to travel. It’s a positive and liberating change.

What one thing do you wish people knew about libraries or being a librarian that you suspect they don’t?

It’s not actually all about the books – it’s much more about working with people, and helping people to achieve what they’re trying to do.

Favourite fictional librarian?

Yes – the librarian in The Dragon in the Library by Louie Stowell. Her name is Faith and she is the head librarian in a public library and she is amazing. She is young, trendy, and has magical powers and a dragon living in the basement.

Can you give us a book recommendation?

Libraries: An Unquiet History by Matthew Battles. It’s quite a short book, which is in its favour! It’s about the history of libraries and their place in human society. It’s quite controversial in places. I certainly don’t agree with everything in it, but I do think it’s an interesting way of looking at the role of libraries as actually quite subversive things.

Interview by Ellen Morgan

We spoke to people who have professional registration status as a librarian via the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals or who have an academic qualification such as a first degree, a postgraduate diploma or a Master’s degree in library and information studies or librarianship.

Is this you? If you’d like to feature in Library Lives, get in touch with [email protected]

Would you like this to be you? Find out more about becoming a librarian on the CILIP website.