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British Library launches Living Knowledge Network with Libraries Unlimited and public library partners

By April 3, 2019January 26th, 2021Member News & Updates

The British Library, along with 22 public library partners, including Libraries Unlimited and the national libraries of Scotland and Wales, is today launching the Living Knowledge Network, following the success of a two-year pilot phase funded by Arts Council England.

The nationwide partnership has been developed by the British Library in collaboration with the National Library of Scotland and the National Library of Wales to work collaboratively with public libraries across the UK, delivering:

  • Public impact – creating unique services and memorable experiences for the Network’s audiences
  • Knowledge exchange – sharing skills and resources for the benefit of the Network’s teams


In the British Library’s Knowledge Centre today, Chief Librarian of the British Library, Liz Jolly, will say:

“The Living Knowledge Network has had an extraordinarily successful pilot phase of growth and discovery. I am delighted to launch the Network today, surrounded by our partners and sector experts, in the spirit of collaboration and exchange in which it was founded.”


Since The Living Knowledge Network’s inception, successes include:

  • Over 1 million people have engaged with Living Knowledge Network exhibitions, events and live screenings of cultural activities
  • 74 libraries took part in events associated with the British Library’s exhibition Harry Potter: A History of Magic, with over 775,000 visitors attending pop-up exhibitions across 40 libraries
  • UK public library leaders from within the Network have met with their counterparts from the Library Society of China in a two-day knowledge sharing forum in Chengdu, Sichuan Province
  • A new way of touring exhibitions through newly commissioned poetry and spoken-word in collaboration with Poet in the City, culminating in a library late takeover at Leeds Central Library
  • The network has worked in partnership with Clore Leadership to host cultural leadership development days for library professionals


Libraries Unlimited has been part of the pilot for the past two years, and in 2017/18 held 11 screenings at Exeter Library, attended by over 200 who heard from the likes of Vivienne Westwood, Michael Palin and Harriet Harman. Exeter Library and Barnstaple Library also hosted the Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibition from October 2017 to February 2018, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.


The Network will continue to develop cultural and learning activities centred around improving the experience of public library users. In the next 12 months this includes:

  • Writing: Making Your Mark pop up exhibitions opening in over 20 Living Knowledge libraries around the country on 26th April
  • Expanding the strategic touring programme called Collections in Verse to Sheffield and Newcastle
  • Live screening selected cultural events from both the British Library’s public programme and Hay Literature Festival in Living Knowledge Network partner libraries


Libraries Unlimited regularly hosts Living Knowledge Network events at its flagship library in Exeter. Coming up on 8th April will be a livestream featuring Nigella Lawson alongside Ella Risbridger & Bee Wilson for a ‘Voice in Cookery Writing’ event from 7:30pm, free to attend. From April, Exeter Library will be hosting, along with many other Living Knowledge Network libraries across the country, display panels from the British Library to tie in with their Writing Exhibition, displaying information about the history of writing.  Complimenting these display boards will be Exeter’s own display cases which will be showing various items from the library’s Special Collections that contain marginalia (annotations of the books in the margins).  This display will run for around three months and there will be a number of creative writing courses and opportunities taking place in the library over the same period.


Dr John Scally, National Librarian and Chief Executive of National Library of Scotland, said: “As founding partners, we have been pleased to see the progress made during the pilot phase, and look forward to seeing this network continue to grow, bringing together best practice in all parts of the UK.”


Pedr ap Llwyd, Chief Executive and Librarian from The National Library of Wales, said: “The National Library of Wales has played a key role in the implementation of Welsh Government strategies for public libraries during the past decade and more.  A collaborative approach has yielded great results in Wales and the Living Knowledge Network gives us a great opportunity to learn from other nations and share our own experiences in an UK-wide context.”