Chief Executive's introduction
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What stands out for me as I reflect on the year now behind us is the positive way in which colleagues have risen to the challenges we have faced, and sought out new opportunities to enhance our services.
I am particularly pleased at the great strides we are making in building productive partnerships with other organisations. By pooling our talents and resources, we believe our users can benefit enormously. This year, we have forged a significant new partnership with the BBC, which is bringing to fruition exciting new services.
The Library has continued to develop opportunities to collaborate with overseas partners. I would highlight in particular our work in India where we are participating in a number of projects. I was privileged to join the Prime Minister’s delegation to India in July 2010 to witness the signing of the state-to-state cultural agreement between the UK Government and the Government of India. This followed the signing in June of a Memorandum of Understanding between the British Library and the Indian Ministry of Culture, a framework that is providing real opportunities to work with our counterpart library, archive and museum bodies in India to unlock a critical mass of rich material from our shared history and this is of interest to scholars, researchers and the public.
This past year saw publication of our 2020 Vision, providing a framework for Growing Knowledge: The British Library’s Strategy for 2011–15. Our key implementation priorities over the next four years include achieving regulation enabling implementation of the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003; managing the ingest and storage of voluntary and legal deposit content; opening a state-of-the-art facility for storage of physical newspapers; developing selective collaborative stewardship arrangements to collect and connect to content; and establish, in partnership, at least one major new large-scale digitisation initiative in addition to our newspaper digitisation programme.
These plans are, of course, in the context of very challenging financial times. The outcome of the Government’s Spending Review resulted in our Grant in Aid revenue funding reducing by 15% over four years, on top of the immediate in-year 3% cut announced in May, and a 50% cut in our core capital funding for 2011/12. We have worked hard to protect frontline services, but have had to make some difficult decisions; we identified the major areas for saving as staffing, acquisitions, facilities management and preservation, and major and continuing cuts in all our running costs.
The Library’s exhibition programme continues to attract many people to the Library, some for the first time. Our two major exhibitions of the year – Magnificent Maps and Evolving English – were met with very positive reviews, and visitor numbers far exceeded our expectations. Both exhibitions had strong learning programmes running alongside them, and the Library’s learning programme benefited greatly from the opening this year of the Harry M Weinrebe Learning Centre, providing a superb, purpose-built space to support young people in acquiring vital digital literacy skills, and to experience historic manuscripts, sound recordings, maps and letters at first-hand.
The value of our collections continues to grow as we acquire unique, primary material. This year I was delighted that the Library was able to take possession of the archive of J G Ballard, one of the most notable British writers of the twentieth century. Having previously acquired Harold Pinter’s archive in 2007, we were recently able to add to this collection with awards and honours presented to him. The Library also acquired an illuminated medieval prayer roll that once belonged to Henry VIII.
During the year, a singular opportunity arose to acquire the 7th century St Cuthbert Gospel for the nation. Public ownership will enable us to take measures to conserve this remarkable text, of huge historic significance, which will in turn enable greater access to it. I am particularly delighted that we are developing an innovative partnership with institutions in Durham so that the Gospel can also be displayed there.
The many achievements of the past year would of course not have been made were it not for the skills and dedication of all of our staff, to whom I express my sincere thanks. Those who have left the Library this year, I thank for their dedicated service (in many cases over many, many years) and I wish each of them well for the future. I would also like to pay tribute to colleagues in leadership positions across the Library, who have worked together to prepare for the necessary but very painful cuts, and to shape programmes that will enable us to maintain as far as possible our high levels of service.
The British Library will undoubtedly experience a number of years in a difficult financial climate, as public funding is constrained. I recognise that this puts additional strain on all our staff, and I thank them for their continuing commitment to the Library and their energetic and dedicated approach to their work. Together we will focus our energies to re-shape and develop our services, invest in our collections and realise the digital developments which underpin the long-term relevance of the British Library for the 21st century.
Dame Lynne Brindley