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National (digital) infrastructure and national catalogue

Single digital presence for UK public libraries

The Single Digital Presence for UK public libraries project get further £3.4m funding. “one national platform that can host library-curated content and services, showcase exhibitions as well as promote two-way traffic with local library websites, giving national visibility to local events and collections” Arts Council [blog] 3 June 2021

Single Digital Presence project aims to provide a service for all public libraries. UKAuthority web site 4th May 2020

The British Library has begun work on a prototype of a UK-wide digital platform for public libraries.It has begun the work over the past few days with its delivery partner, public sector digital services specialist dxw, to test the concept as part of its Single Digital Presence project.

DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION FOR UK PUBLIC LIBRARIES** : FIVE APPROACHES TO A ‘SINGLE DIGITAL PRESENCE’ A report by the British Library for Arts Council England and Carnegie UK Trust. June 2019

From the Press Release:

New research proposes five options for a digital presence for public libraries Thu 6 Jun 2019. A new report from the British Library, commissioned by Arts Council England and the Carnegie UK Trust, has set out five possible options for digital transformation for UK public libraries.

The recommendations paper, Digital Transformations for UK public libraries: five approaches to a ‘Single Digital Presence ’ , sets out what a national online platform (or “single digital presence”) for public libraries could look like, what it could be used for and how such an offering might fit in with existing digital library systems.The British Library undertook a year-long enquiry to examine a range of options for such a platform and has identified five potential models that could enable public libraries to benefit fully from recent technological developments and to engage new and existing users at local and national level. These are:

  1. Deep Shared Infrastructure – a common, centralised Library Management System, procured at a UK wide level and run as a single piece of technology serving all libraries. Such interventions are rare at national level, though the Republic of Ireland has recently introduced such a system.
  2. UK wide Content Discovery – an aggregator at UK national level of free-to-view digital content from libraries, archives and other public collections. Example include Gallica in France, Trove in Australia, Finna in Finland and the Digital Public Library of America in the USA.
  3. Unified Digital Lending – a single, publicly-run service devoted to the free digital ‘lending’ of books and other copyright content that would otherwise only be available on a commercial basis. An example is eReolen in Denmark.
  4. Safe Social Space – a user-led digital platform for the people who love libraries, replicating the community spaces they visit and work in as a complementary alternative to commercial social media services. No exact national equivalent currently exists, though emergent services such as Library Planet and Lit Hub offer analogies as digital places where library users and book lovers can gather and interact.
  5. One Library Brand – an intervention to create and promote a single ‘library brand’ at cross-UK scale: potentially applicable in both the digital and physical realms and consistent with any of the above propositions.

"British Library to investigate possibility of a ‘single digital presence’ for UK public libraries" BL Press Release Wed 30 Aug 2017The British Library is to lead an 18-month scoping project to establish the demand for and possible shape of a ‘single digital presence’ for UK public libraries.

Funded by Arts Council England and the Carnegie UK Trust, the project will investigate user expectations and demand for what a national online platform for public libraries might deliver, and will explore the network of stakeholder groups and organisations best placed to make it a reality.

Reports leading to a single digital presence

Shared national digital platform for public libraries in England

This initiative was taken up by the Public Libraries Task Force and forms an action point in their report “Libraries Deliver: Ambition for Public Libraries in England 2016 to 2021”, DCMS December 2016

The Libraries Taskforce’s role is to provide leadership and help to reinvigorate the public library sector in England, as well as showcasing and promoting the excellent work already happening in libraries across the country. We were asked by Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Local Government Association (LGA) to develop this vision for the future of public libraries in England

“Supporting the development of the digital offer of libraries.” is action point 20 in the Task Force action plan

Explore the feasibility of a shared national digital platform for public libraries in England (Single Library Digital Presence) and then identify ways to develop, operate and fund it”

Essential Digital Infrastructure for Public Libraries in England.

A plan for moving forward.Prepared by BiblioCommons November 24, 2015 Commissioned by The Society of Chief Librarians in collaboration with The Reading Agency With funding from Arts Council England. Also known as the “Bibliocommons report”

“This report argues that a standards-based digital platform is the only viable technology for realising recent strategic goals articulated by leaders for England’s public libraries. The platform would allow libraries and their partners to innovate, collaborate and share in ways they cannot now do. The report further argues that the primary mode of service on this platform must be co-production – among library authorities, and among library staff, national and local partners, and importantly, end users. We show how new digital divides have made the mission of libraries – literacy, learning, and community inclusion – as relevant as it ever was. And that in order to provide an energetic response, libraries must invite their users into their digital spaces: their catalogues, their websites, their ebook readers, their online events calendars. We argue that these two measures, a standards-based digital platform and co-production of services, will reinvigorate libraries and create substantial, tangible outcomes in literacy, digital and social inclusion, health, education, and economic participation.”

Unified Digital Platform for All Libraries in England

March 2015: The Society of Chief Librarians is working to create a unified digital platform for public library resources aimed at increasing use of libraries by existing and potential customers “The Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) has begun work to envision a unified digital platform for all public libraries in England. This new digital platform for public libraries will improve how library customers can access, understand, and use the information and resources that libraries provide, including book catalogues, digital resources, IT training, events calendars, and library locations and opening hours. This web platform will help bring new users into public libraries, both virtually and physically, and enrich the library experience for existing customers.As a result of a public tender for the work, SCL appointed BiblioCommons, a Canadian company that works to transform how libraries serve communities online. The initial phase of the project, which is funded by a £30,000 grant from Arts Council England, will research consumer and library sector needs and create a vision and roadmap for the unified digital platform. Work on stage 1 is expected to complete at the end of March 2015.”

Universal Digital Platform : Concept Development and Test

Invitation to Tender ITT by the Society of chief librarianAim: To develop a roadmap for a single unified public user interface / web presence, for use by and across Public Libraries in England. From the ITT


  • “to design a universal digital platform which will fulfil a range of relevant functions and provide compelling user experiences
  • unify customer access at a national level to both national and local resources, and provide a strong advocacy tool demonstrating the value and purpose of libraries within a digital technology
  • The new digital presence will encourage use of physical libraries
  • Incorporation of national catalogue tools and functions (e.g. through WorldCat) and potentially (future potential) for e-lending functionality

In practical terms, the universal platform must be able to incorporate existing national digital library products and services, such as:

  • SCL Information offer geo-location tool, Information for Living
  • Links to externally maintained / delivered information resources such as, but not limited to, Enquire, Access to Research and Reference Online
  • Open to embedded content developed by third parties but with a collaborative Online reader development tools / resource discovery through member authentication at local level
  • Ideally, and in partnership with The Reading Agency, development of Library 21, through which publishers are willing to make all their digital reading assets available in physical library spaces, eg by tethering through internal IPs / serve spaces
  • Again, in partnership with The Reading Agency, any microsites underpinning the Reading Agency's work with public libraries
  • Incorporation of national catalogue tools and functions (e.g. through WorldCat) and potentially (future potential) for e-lending functionality
  • Links / APIs connecting to online heritage resources
  • It should be mobile compatible / device and browser agnostic
  • Must be fully accessible, meeting triple A standards if possible developed through Share the Vision partnership work
  • Promote regional / national SCL activities and messages
  • Build in user journeys / case studies / feedback forums

Sieghart on a national infrastructure for (English) public libraries

'Government must fund digital resource for libraries, says Sieghart'.By Joshua Farrington. The Bookseller 18 December 2014

The Sieghart review into public libraries, to be published today (18th December), calls on central government to give local authorities the funding to create a national digital resource for libraries, with free Wi-fi as standard, and workforce training for all public libraries in England. Speaking on BBC Radio Four’s “Today” programme this morning, Sieghart said: “It is a critical moment now because we are facing a few more years of austerity ahead of us and many of the library services around the country have been whittled down as far as they can go…. Government, big and little government, wants to deliver services digitally in the future and the library is the safe and most obvious place to do that.”

[T]he report also calls for the creation of a new task force, to provide a strategic framework for libraries in England and work with local authorities to improve their services.

Future libraries, William Sieghart LGA website 19 June 2014

“It is possible to strengthen the service nationally without losing the local approach. My strong view is that part of the answer can be found through offering a digital network for libraries, which could include a single management system, one library card valid in all libraries in England,……Once set up, this network could also be a vehicle for improving the leadership of, and vision for, libraries; more joined up procurement; the sharing of best practice and encouraging change – without conflicting with the need for local approaches. It could give users access to a much wider choice of materials…”

Some current national digital services

Access to research

Access to research is a national service for discovery and delivery of academic journal articles. From January 2014, over 1.5 million academic articles are available, free of charge, in participating public libraries across the UK. Students, independent researchers and small businesses can now access many of the world’s best academic papers through their local libraries, a result of a unique collaboration between librarians and publishers, who have made their journal content available for free.

National Interlending - UnityUK ™

UnityUK is web-based resource sharing and interlibrary loan (ILL) service for librarians that enables them to meet ILL requests from users from a national network of resources. Provided by OCLC in partnership with The Combined Regions (TCR), UnityUK is a national network for resource sharing. UnityUK brings together the union catalogues previously known as UnityWeb, LinkUK and RevealWeb into one single union catalogue. In addition UnityUK allows staff users to search other data sets/union catalogues such as COPAC and the British Library files.

Welsh National Catalogue

Since 2008 there has been all-Wales library catalogue. Cat Cymru at and an all-Wales library portal since 2006 at

“The catalogue is cross-sector and users can also request the item that they find from their local public library service. The portal and the cross-catalogue search is led by the National Library of Wales, funded by the Welsh Government.”

Registry of libraries: The WorldCat Registry

The WorldCat Registry is a Web-based directory for libraries and library consortia. “It is an authoritative single source for information that defines institutional identity, services, relationships, contacts and other key data often shared with third parties.”

Past (deceased) attempts to create a national infrastructure/catalogue

Bookmark your Library [now deceased]

This provides information on public libraries across the UK and includes a link to the national catalogue Fab Libraries launched in 2012. Bookmark Your Library is provided by The Combined Regions, The Arts Council England, from OCLC, The Society of Chief Librarians, and The Reading Agency. 'Our goal is to help promote the services of libraries around the country – as they provide support to everyone'.

Fab Libraries [now deceased]

FABLibraries is the current instance of the Combined Regions/OCLC initiative described below. It provides access to more than 149 UK public library catalogues in a single search. It will link you to the library’s own website, tell you if it is available so you can get your local library to borrow it for you, and will even show you library locations on a map and the distance from where you are.

Some further history

UK to get national public library e-catalogue.Plans to launch a web based UK national public library catalogue have been announced by The Combined Regions and the Online Computer Library Center'' Guardian Government Computing. 30 August 2011

The two organisations said the catalogue will contain bibliographic data from 80% of the UK's public libraries and enable web users to search 9m bibliographic records and 50m books and other stock items.Taking information already indexed in WorldCat, an online resource for finding library materials, the new UK catalogue should provide a view of library materials held by the 149 local authorities with a current full subscription to UnityUK. This is a resource sharing and interlibrary loan service provided by The Combined Regions.

OCLC Announces a first step towards a UK National Public Library Catalogue

From the press release 6th January 2010

OCLC and The Combined Regions (TCR) have announced plans to launch Britain's first freely accessible national public library union catalogue, the first of its kind in the country.

While the objective is to ultimately include all UK public libraries within the catalogue, initially, the project will provide a view of holdings contributed to WorldCat by the 149 local authorities with a current full package subscription to UnityUK. As the UK's only national network for resource sharing, UnityUK participants already provide regular updates of holdings records to WorldCat, which are intended primarily for inter-library loans purposes. This data, as it stands, will be used to provide an initial 'proof of concept' of the union catalogue for review by those UnityUK libraries with a full package subscription in spring 2011 (see timings below).

This preliminary version of the catalogue will then be extended to include other UK public libraries that do not currently have a full package UnityUK subscription and wish to join.

As a pre-requisite for the project, the holdings data of participating libraries will need to be made visible on the open Web through Having your collection discoverable virtually anywhere on the Web through was previously only offered to UnityUK participants as a chargeable service. Now, OCLC will provide this unique benefit as part of a full-package UnityUK subscription and has therefore been factored into the 2011 renewals with these customers.

Ken Chad's article on a National Catalogue

published in CILIP Library+Information Gazette on 2nd September 2010


In the (last Labour) government’s (DCMS) policy statement on public libraries a ‘national catalogue’ was listed as one of the objectives that could be achieved through the mechanism of a ‘strategic body ‘if money becomes available’

This objective could be said to be on its way to being achieved without the strategic body being set up. A growing number of UK public libraries ‘expose’ their catalogue holdings to make them discoverable of Google Books. The Google Books service (effectively a sub-set of the standard Google search) provides rich information about books and provides links to a wealth or related material in many (most?) cases. Importantly Google links to a wide variety of ‘fulfilment’ mechanisms to get the book. This includes a ‘find in a library’ option. Clicking on that link takes the user to the (OCLC) WorldCat global catalogue to reveal libraries that have the book. If the user enters their postcode they will be linked to holdings from their ‘local’ library. A link to the local public library catalogue will show if items are on loan or available on the library shelf

national_catalogue.txt · Last modified: 2021/06/04 16:02 by admin