Roly Keating: His Journey to the British Library
Ojala, Marydee, Information Today
Listening to Roly Keating explain the digitization and preservation efforts of The British Library (BL), it's hard to believe he had only been on the job as the new chief executive of the institution for less than 2 months. His grasp of the library's recent projects was particularly impressive since he gave the last portion of his talk without slides or notes due to a technical glitch.
Keating delivered the keynote address on Day 2 of the Internet Librarian International conference in late October at London's Olympia Conference Centre and delved into the journey to digital at the BL. Although new to the BL, he is far from new at understanding the power of digitized materials to reach an expanded audience.
Before becoming CEO at the library, Keating held various positions at the BBC. He joined the BBC in 1983, after graduating from Balliol College, Oxford, with a first class degree in Classics. His career at the BBC encompassed a number of roles, beginning as an intern. His succession of jobs included being a producer and director in music and arts, head of programming for UKTV, controller of digital channels, controller of arts commissioning, controller of BBC Four and BBC Two, and, before joining the BL, director of archive content since 2008. In that job, he was responsible for developing and implementing the BBC's strategy to increase digital access to its archives. This included developing partnerships with outside institutions, including the BL.
This explains why he's so comfortable talking about digitization projects at the library: It's not uncharted territory for him. The digitization initiatives, says Keating, "fit perfectly with the British Library's age-old mission of providing information for everyone who wants to do research, whether it's for academic, personal, or commercial purposes." This mission has not changed either.
He chuckled as he recalled the time the BL announced its BBC Pilot Service 2 weeks after he started as CEO. This multimedia service allows people in the BL's Reading Rooms to access 4.5 years of BBC television and radio programs recorded off-air (mid-2007-2011). It includes 2.2 million catalog records and 190,000 playable programs. The Pilot Service was one that he had initiated in his old job and had worked on from that end for 3 years.
Digitization Projects at the BL
The BL's collection is huge, consisting of more than 150 million physical holdings. Of those, only about 1% have been digitized. To completely digitize the entire collection would take "several lifetimes of work," says Keating. He credits Lynne Brindley, his predecessor at the BL, for her leadership and having the foresight to begin digitization projects, such as its Turning the Pages project (developed by Armadillo New Media Communications Ltd.) and others, well before the value of digitization was commonly accepted. More recently, the BL worked with brightsolid on a 10-year project to digitize about 40 million pages from its historical newspapers collection.
He also feels strongly about collaborating with other organizations. The BBC and brightsolid are two examples. The BL is partnering with Google to digitize 250,000 out-of-copyright books, pamphlets, and periodicals. Does he have any qualms about collaborating with a public company such as Google? "The alignment between a profit-driven entity and the British Library needs to be managed carefully," he says. "We must protect the public interest and ensure that there is no misuse by Google of our content."
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