The British Library is the UK’s national library and holds over 150 million items from around the world in both print and digital format including books manuscripts, journals, newspapers, magazines, sound and music recordings, videos, play-scripts, patents, databases, maps, stamps, prints, drawings. The Library’s collections include around 14 million books, along with substantial holdings of manuscripts and historical items dating back as far as 2000 BC. The British Library is the largest library in the world by number of items catalogued.
Following the success of our work with the V&A, The British Library asked us design two new learning sites to support their World War One and English Literature projects. The Library was looking for a forward looking, user-friendly design solution that placed their unique content at the forefront of an interactive user-experience. The design had to fit with their existing Global Experience Language but also allow some experimentation in regard to navigation and supporting a wider learning experience. The resulting site also had to be responsive and work well across web, mobile and connected TV as well as being adaptable for future communication platforms. All this was to be designed before a new content management system had been decided upon.
What we did
Working closely with the British Library team, we designed a unique information architecture solution that left behind the traditional hierarchical content structure in favour of a flat architecture based on the cross-linking and aggregation of related content. The requirements of the brief stressed the importance of a flat information architecture, and we advanced this concept to include the work that we had done at the V&A.
Our solution involved tagging content extensively on publication. In-page modules, each with a unique set of rules and logic then promote and link to related content to encourage exploration, rather than relying on a fixed ‘site-tree’ style navigation. Designing pages in this modular way allowed us to have a very small number of actual template types yet retain an incredible amount of flexibility when it came to the content and functionality available on a particular page.
The World War One site was launched in time for the centenary of the outbreak of war to critical acclaim and the Discovering Literature site launched three months later. The sites have been a huge success for the Library and have received huge amounts of positive publicity as well as large numbers of visitors to both sites. The site has had some great press coverage, including a tweet from Stephen Fry.
Education minister Elizabeth Truss said the Discovering Literature site would support the new curriculum by “helping to bring to life some of the greatest pieces of literature of our time such as Oliver Twist and Tess of the d’Urbervilles.
The Guardian wrote a glowing article: British Library puts 1,200 ‘literary treasures’ on new website
The Daily Telegraph: British Library puts Blake and Wordsworth treasures online