The British Library

By Clarke, Ann | Alexandria, August 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

The British Library


Clarke, Ann, Alexandria


TOWARDS THE BRITISH LIBRARY'S VISION FOR 2020

History of the British Library

The British Library, established in 1973 by Act of Parliament, is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world's greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business and personal research communities across all disciplines, and offers unparalleled access to one of the world's largest research collections. The Library's collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilization.

Strategic planning

Since the 1980s, when strategic planning became widespread, the Library has developed strategic plans, engaging on the major trends, determining the strategic opportunities and challenges that these offer, and deriving a small number of strategic priorities from this research. Our first strategic plan, Advancing with Knowledge (British Library Board, 1985), covered a period of five years. Successive plans have been prepared broadly in line with Government spending reviews. The British Library's Strategy 2008-2011 (British Library Board, 2008) constitutes our seventh strategic plan.

Accelerating pace of change

In the past, we have sought to develop a three to five year vision and accompanying strategy setting out how we would achieve the vision. This approach worked well when the pace of change was gradual. Given the enormity of the changes that have taken place over the past ten years (just remember the iPod, Facebook and YouTube did not exist ten years ago), we now want to anticipate the next paradigm shift. Our focus, therefore, is to develop our vision to 2020, from which we will develop a three-year strategy covering the period 2011-14. While some would argue that the changes to technology we are seeing currently are so momentous that a 10-year view has little meaning, we consider there to be good reasons for predicting so far ahead.

We are a major national library, committed to our role as custodian of the UK national published archive. As a guarantor of continued public access to both our rich legacy of content and new forms of digital content, 10 years is not a long time. Digital technology and the Internet are evolving swiftly and while current times are showing a shake-out and disruption in terms of new services and business models, by 2020 this shake-out may have taken a more definitive shape.

Our goals

In our visioning work to 2020, we will develop three outputs:

* A clearer understanding of the Library's operating environment in 2020

* A British Library vision for 2020

* A roadmap for organizational transformation to take us from the present day to 2020, with greater detail for the first three years than for the rest.

Research methodology

We are taking forward our visioning work in four phases:

* Phase 1 - Structuring the issues, developing preliminary visions and seeking external views

* Phase 2 - Analysing the external operating environment and developing future scenarios; analysing the internal context and, from this, developing strategic visions for the Library

* Phase 3 - Selecting the strategic option that is best for our customers and other major stakeholders

* Phase 4 - Developing a strategic road map.

We commenced this project in summer 2009 and aim to complete it in one year's time.

Strategic option development

One of our first tasks, before any research had been undertaken, was to develop four possible 2020 visions for the Library, based upon a 2x2 matrix depicting parameters describing facets of the Library (Figure 1). We selected as the parameters 'Access to Content' (from onsite to virtual) and 'Services' (from basic to sophisticated), and defined four visions:

* Evolution - physical access to physical content; some digital collecting and connecting

* Collaborative physical research space - physical and digital access provision via our St Paneras site in London; digitization on demand; partnerships to develop sophisticated interfaces to digital content supplied mainly on-site

* Virtual - online access to digital content through a one-stop shop; seamless online access to items held and preserved elsewhere

* Networked partnership - a managed network delivering content, ICT and services with partners (e. …

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