The British Library and Data

The British Library is rising to the challenges posed by the creative chaos of the digital age, says outgoing chief executive Lynne Brindley

The banking system may have lost public trust, but great libraries such as the British Library, which contain the DNA of civilisation, have the public interest built into their core values.

Those values – which also include independence, integrity and longevity – must be maintained. But as I reflect on my glorious, exciting and rewarding 12 years as chief executive of the British Library, it strikes me that the challenge for such institutions today is to continue to reposition their role in the “always on” digital culture, which submerges scholars, consumers and citizens alike in a deluge of data.

The British Library’s purpose has always been to acquire, preserve, organise and give access to information: the intellectual, scientific and cultural memory of the nation, exercised through statute. Our far-sighted predecessors ensured that any book published in the UK could be made available in a reading room in perpetuity. Today our remit extends into the digital sphere, with prospective regulations set to charge us with avoiding a “digital black hole” in material relating to the 21st century.

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