January 17, 2022

“How the British Library is Breathing Life into Old Books”

From a new Op/Ed appearing in The Guardian by the CEO of the British Library, Roly Keating:

There are huge challenges in rethinking the roles of an institution such as the British Library, but also many opportunities. The digital age is full of creative potential – people can find what they want quickly, which frees up energies to go even deeper with their research. The library is one of those very old words that is turning out to have valuable new meanings. Creative curatorial library skills, such as indexing, cataloguing, giving access and helping people find the material they need at the right time, turn out to be exactly the disciplines that are driving the global information economy.


The British Library sits at the intersection of many different industries. New ways of thinking are sparked by different industries coming together, by people from a broadcast background seeing the opportunity in digitised historic artefacts or people from a business background finding deep sources of information.

Print is not dead. In sheer volume, both newspapers and print books seem to be riding high, but audience habits are changing. My daughter flits effortlessly between buying books on her Kindle and working her way through a paperback and likes both in different moods. In our lifetime, we will undoubtedly enjoy a sea of print materials, but it’ll also be our privilege to live through some form of revolution of blended media, with people switching back and forth between print and digital.

There’s an analogy with television here. Linear scheduling hasn’t disappeared under pressure of on-demand services. It has just had to raise its game. We may even see the same for print and paper. Rather than disappearing, the specialness and quality and power of print will prove itself in a new way. But where print existed purely to deliver bald prose or information, digital does a better job. We will see it as the best medium for learned journals or scientific research, where the need to disseminate and discuss and explore research quickly is important.

Read the Complete Op/Ed by Roly Keating

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.