The new chief executive of the British Library has pledged to support university libraries as they seek “the heart of the service” they should be providing in financially straitened times.
Roly Keating joined the library last September after almost 30 years at the BBC, where he served as controller of both BBC Two and BBC Four, and most recently as director of archive content.
He explored some of the parallel challenges of both organisations in a speech at the Research Libraries UK annual conference last November.
One such challenge was implementing the “demanding vision” of “guaranteeing access”, to which both the library and the corporation have expressed commitment.
Since the BBC had long operated with “no record of what it had broadcast” and had agreements “written for an age [when programmes had just] one or two repeats”, it had required real effort to adapt to the new realities of digital copyright and data management, he told the conference. Variations on these themes were equally relevant to the British Library.
On access to material, Mr Keating told Times Higher Education that he is fully supportive of “the brave call” made by his predecessor, Dame Lynne Brindley, that the library should be “a resource for anyone who wants to do research, provided they have a bona fide research project and need to use our collections”.
He added: “It has to be generously defined, because true innovation and breakthroughs can come from many quarters - the human and citizen need to access a great library is as diverse as the country we serve.”
Mr Keating said he expected to be “walking the floors” of the British Library to check on the availability of desks during the “famous pressure point around Easter”, and may also “over time seek more space within the building”.
Although he is “fascinated by how the library has begun to grow, within its current funding, an entire digital library service”, Mr Keating was at pains to stress that it was not “moving from physical to digital” but “moving to physical and digital”.
This April will see the implementation of the Legal Deposit Libraries (Non-Print Works) Regulations 2013, which gives the nation’s legal deposit libraries - including the British Library - responsibility for our digital as well as printed heritage.
Mr Keating explained that the library would also be integrating its collection of printed and digitised newsprint “with the growing broadcast news collection we have been building up for a couple of years”.
“It will come to life through increasingly joined-up interfaces,” he added.
“Scholars will be able to explore the news heritage of the UK through digitised newspapers, broadcast news from around 17 channels and, increasingly, the web.”
Asked for a more general vision of the library’s future place within the sector, Mr Keating stressed its role as “a privileged special public space, where specialists can come together and share”.
He said he has been impressed by “how resourceful and strategic” university libraries have been in responding to financial constraints, both by increasing collaboration and by putting “a premium on unique collections, and being bolder, clearer and louder about the value of those”.
Mr Keating added: “There is work going on in the sector to redefine the model, and we will support them in finding the heart of the service that they will be providing over the next 5 or 10 years.”