Living Knowledge blog

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

12 June 2020

Celebrating Pride in lockdown

IMG_1706-smallerJune is always a special month for the LGBTQ+ staff network of the British Library. This is when we take part in York and London Pride events, followed by marching at Leeds Pride in August. For the first time this year, we were also planning on attending Black Pride with our colleagues from the BAME network. Sadly, due to the pandemic, all physical Pride events have been postponed to 2021. However, we wanted to mark Pride month by telling you what we have been up to in the past year.

You will have seen that last week, we changed the British Library’s logo on social media. For the first time, we are using the Quasar flag. Last year, the Estates team engaged in consultation with the LGBTQ+ Network, and after running a successful survey that the members of staff voted on, the decision was made to replace the previous Rainbow flag with the new Quasar Progress flag. This new flag, which was designed by Daniel Quasar, incorporates the rainbow colours, as well as additional colours to represent our BAME and Trans communities. We purchased the flag directly from Daniel Quasar and hope that we will be able to raise it soon.

“It's nice to see the British Library showing support for marginalized communities by flying the Progress Pride Flag. I'm glad the LGBTQ+ network of the British Library reached out to work with me on making this happen, and I'm excited to see the flag flying outside their building soon.” – Daniel Quasar, designer of the Quasar flag

“I am so pleased to have this new flag. Whilst it is good to state our values, it is even greater to see them demonstrated and put in practice. June is Pride Awareness month, but it doesn’t stop there – we all in the organisation have a part to play and all need to step up and put in the effort together. Having this flag recognises that equality doesn’t operate the same across all remits, as well as raising awareness to the ways in which different remits intersect and disproportionately affect individuals.  It is warming to see an active demonstration of our values of ‘embracing equality, fairness and diversity’ and ‘treating everyone with respect and compassion’.” - Stephanie Keen, Co-chair of the BAME Network

We are incredibly proud to have this new flag, which includes BAME and Trans colours and sends the message that the Library is open to everyone. Intersectionality is at the heart of our work and we believe that we all have an active part to play towards change. The arrow shape of the new flag represents "forward movement" and acknowledges that progress still needs to be made.

The British Library stands with those who oppose homophobia, transphobia, racism and discrimination in all forms. This month more than any month, we want to actively demonstrate our values of ‘embracing equality, fairness and diversity’ and ‘treating everyone with respect and compassion’ being put into practice for everyone to see.

To mark the London Pride weekend, on June 27th & 28th, we will be lighting up the clocktower at St Pancras with a rotation of rainbow colours. Whilst Pride physical events may have been cancelled this year, the Library is still proud to celebrate Pride by lighting up the clocktower, and showing solidarity and support to LGBTQ+ people across the world. The lights will be switched on from sundown on both days, and will remain on until midnight.

We will also announce shortly a series of online events in the last week of June sharing with you some of the best talks about LGBTQ+ stories and lives that we’ve hosted in our Knowledge Centre.

We’d also like to encourage you to visit our LGBTQ+ stories website, where we explore the experiences and stories encountered in our collections, but also pose questions and seek to involve the community in thinking about answers. Articles include ‘Transgender identities in the past’, ‘Bisexuals in print’, ‘Arena Three: Britain’s first lesbian magazine’ and many more.

It’s been a busy year of events, our cultural team launched a series ‘Notes and Queeries’ inviting LGBTQ+ authors to explore their relationship to libraries and reading by ‘queering’ items from the British Library collection. Laura Bridgeman and Keith Jarrett took part in the first ones and we’re looking forward to announcing more authors when we re-open our doors. Other highlights of the year include Michael Cashman in conversation with Ian McKellen, which we will stream again on June 22nd on the Living Knowledge Network; and Jack Halberstam’s Annual Equality Lecture, which you can watch here. For the first time this year, as part of our Family Day in February, we hosted Drag Queen Story Time, which attracted a wonderful crowd of delighted children and parents.

A couple of weeks ago, our curator Steven Dryden hosted a webinar on the ‘Gay Liberation Front at 50’ taking us through the story of Gay Liberation Front UK as it marks 50 years, and discussed what happens when a radical political movement is archived and preserved by a national library. The webinar was attended by over 400 people all around the world and we should have more exciting news regarding our collections on the Gay Liberation Front coming shortly.

The LGBTQ+ network has been very busy internally to ensure that the British Library’s culture and environment is welcoming, safe and supportive for all staff members who identify as LGBTQ+.  As part of this work, we are delighted to announce that the British Library has just signed up to the Stonewall Diversity Champion scheme. We are looking forward to working with our colleagues in the Gender Equality Network and the Stonewall team to carry on this work.

“We're very happy to have worked with the LGBTQ+ network on securing this membership and we're looking forward to working with Stonewall to ensure that all our staff feel safe and welcome.” – Sophie Sabin, Chair of the Gender Equality Network

“This year, the Black Lives Matter movement in the US and around the globe is an important reminder that Pride was and still is a protest to fight for our fundamental rights. There can’t be true LGBT equality unless there is also equality for Black people. We’re delighted to be working with the British Library through our Diversity Champions programme who we will be supporting to continue working to embed LGBT inclusivity across their organisation. We know that people perform better at work when they can be themselves, and that organisations like the British Library can be an important ally in the fight for equality for everyone.” - Emma Kosmin, Head of Public Sector Memberships at Stonewall

The Everyone Engaged team launched Trans Awareness Training for all British Library staff this year and eight sessions have already taken place. Libraries have always been places of learning, thought, and reasoned debate and we want to ensure that everyone feels welcome to work or visit the British Library.

As a network, we hosted our first diversity roundtable with the Knowledge Quarter on LGBTQ+ network groups; we visited other institutions such as the V&A, the Bishopsgate Institute and the Hayward Gallery to learn from their best practices on how to promote LGBTQ+ collections; we work closely with the other institutions of the GLAM LGBTQ+ network and we took over the Twitter account of the British Library in February to highlight our LGBTQ+ collections.

We have many more exciting projects in the pipeline that we hope to announce soon. The next highlight will be our exhibition ‘Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women's Rights’, which will open later this year and will explore how feminist activism in the UK has its roots in the complex history of women’s rights. Recognising that inequality is experienced differently depending on race, gender identity, class and sexuality, this exhibition will celebrate those who have struggled to overcome the barriers to living a fully-realised life.

Cecile Communal

International Engagement Manager

Co-chair, LGBTQ+ staff network

 

01 June 2020

Explore the British Library from your home

British Library through the porthole

 

As a web editor, I’m normally in my element with my head buried deep in digital content from all corners of the Library.

Two months into working from home, though, and I’m really missing the BL buzz. The soothing sounds of pages turning – minds working – in our Reading Rooms. Turning a corner and encountering the Magna Carta. The coffee.

If you’re feeling the same, here are my top picks for exploring our collections, exhibitions and buildings, and even meeting our crew – without leaving your front door.

Whether you're in need of a culture fix, scratching your head for research inspiration, or simply want to get lost in the virtual stacks, we’ve got something for you.

 

Continue your research remotely

Missing our Reading Rooms? We’ve put together this guide to help you explore our collection. Find out what content we have available online and who can you speak to about your research. 

 

Keep little ones entertained

Children's book illustrations

Tailored to the national curriculum, these learning activities on our new Discovering Children’s Books website will get children creating in no time. Star in your own comic, form an imaginary school and create your own talking animal. Don't forget to tweet us their masterpieces! 

 

Travel the world while in lockdown

You may be holed up in your home but you can still don your explorer hat and travel the globe. We’ve digitised a whole range of globes from the 17–18th centuries for virtual exploration. Spin them. Zoom in on them. Share them. There’s even an augmented reality function (available on phone or tablet via Sketchfab) so you can bring them to life in your living room. 

 

Explore the building

3D model of British Library

Our doors may be closed but you can still explore the building. Tour the Library from your home and learn about the design and architecture of our Grade I listed building, the artwork hidden in its nooks and crannies and what goes on behind the scenes. Ever noticed the fossils buried in our courtyard? Or that our building actually resembles a ship? Take a peek inside. Or if you’d prefer a pixelated stroll through the Library, try our retro Bitsy British Library Simulator.

 

Sound holiday

Getting bored of the sound of your kettle boiling? Replace it with bird song. Our Sounds Archive features recordings from all over the world and covers everything from music, drama and literature to oral history, accents and, yes, even bird sounds too.

 

Experience our virtual books

You’ve got our greatest treasures at your fingertips: Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks, the original Alice's Adventures Under Ground manuscript, early works from Jane Austen, and more. Leaf through the pages. Magnify the details and get lost in other worlds.

 

Listen to our podcast

Buzzing, creative, brave. Libraries don’t just keep our stories safe; they’re where new stories begin. Our Anything But Silent podcast takes you from war-torn Syria to Glastonbury and beyond. One for all library lovers. 

 

Visit an online exhibition

Relive the key moments from our exhibitions with access to collection items, curators’ articles and videos. Whether you’re an Anglo-Saxons boffin or want to learn more about the Windrush scandal, you’ll find something thought-provoking among our virtual exhibits. 

 

Inspiring imagery on Flickr

"London (illustrated) . A complete guide to the leading hotels, places of amusement ... Also a directory ... of first-class reliable houses in the various branches of trade"

With access to thousands of rights-free images from our collections (all available for download), the opportunities to be creative are endless. Many of our researchers, particularly from the art, design and fashion worlds, have had eureka moments browsing our albums.

 

Keep up to date on our blogs and digital channels

Hear what our curators are getting up to under quarantine in our blogs, or watch our Curators on Camera series to hear about their favourite objects from our exhibitions. And if you’d like further insight into goings-on at the Library, we have plenty more fascinating videos on our YouTube channel.

For all our latest news, updates and other highlights, be sure to follow us on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.

 

Elliot Sinclair

Web Editor

18 May 2020

Be Bold With Bananas, or rediscovering your personal library

Podcasting is a medium which has exploded in recent years and now offers incredibly rich and varied content, from documentary series, investigative journalism and fiction, to business programmes, foreign language tutorials and more. Like a book or an exhibition, they take us on a narrative journey, offer a snapshot into a different reality or lift the curtain on unsuspected stories. Yet, while a book requires concentration and immobility, and an exhibition can be enjoyed in good company, a podcast is a wonderful companion for chores, walks or commuting.

At the start of the year I was appointed to the British Library Advisory Council, and this prompted me to listen to the British Library’s podcast series, Anything But Silent. The episode that immediately grabbed my attention was [Redacted], promising a dive into the library’s risqué titles. The episode slightly confounded my expectations, as it was not actually about X-rated literature, but I found it delightful nonetheless. In particular, a large part of the episode enlists two engaging librarians working in Detroit’s Plymouth District Library. Some 10 years ago, Mary Kelly and Holly Hibner started a project which eventually turned into the website Awful Library Books. It sprung from their realisation that many of the books on their library’s shelves were no longer relevant to the issues that most concerned their users – this was 2009, a time when 80% of people walking into the library wanted information about how to find a job, or how to deal with foreclosure or bankruptcy. They started ‘weeding’ the library to make space for new, more up-to-date or topical books. Through this process, Mary and Holly unearthed quaint and hilarious books from Glamour Puss, the Enchanting World of Kitty Wigs featuring cats wearing wigs, and A Liberated Lady’s Guide to Cars, to Be Bold with Bananas from the Banana Control Board – yes, such board did exist in the 60s – which offers a wide range of banana recipes accompanied by an array of somewhat phallic images. Today, the Awful Library Books website continues, more vibrant than ever, and regularly augmented by submissions from world readers.

It was so entertaining to hear Holly and Mary talk about the titles that they have come across and their views about how they have evolved their library collection. It is equally enlightening to listen to how they distinguish between books as everyday objects, books as the preoccupation of museums and galleries, and books as vehicles for information. Libraries are not static universes, guided by inflexible collecting rules, they are collections, which evolve to remain relevant to their context and users. Their shelves offer a survey of social history: they point to what made a society tick, the topics that were in vogue at a certain time, and what people looked for as inspiration, guidance and help. While they are a space for cultivating the minds of the future, libraries can also function as a sort of time capsule of the concerns and desires of former generations, and in so many ways continue to be relevant to our lives.

The British Library, though, differs from Mary and Holly’s Detroit library. As a reference library it must keep an example of every book published in English and thus there is no weeding the British Library, however, more than many other libraries it bears witness to our travails through the ages, our artistic production, and provides a deep catalogue of all the ways in which we create with words. It keeps books of course, but also patents, sound recordings, music sheets, scientific publications, and more, a treasure trove within which there is much to discover.

We all possess our own libraries, paperbacks novels or non-fiction, cookery books, comics, magazines, dictionaries make up our personal collections, which we accumulate and sediment over the years. With more time at home, I embarked on a rediscovery of my own collection. I came across many books I had forgotten about and now want to re-read, in particular The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy by Bruno Bettelheim, which I have longed to read for many years, without realising I owned it. And as Holly and Mary, I have found some cracking old titles lurking around, which made me wince, and perhaps worthy of a post on the Awful Library Books’ shelves.

Alice-black

Alice Black,

Ambassador, Mayor of London’s Cultural Leadership Board, and member of the British Library Advisory Council