Journey of an invention blog

The British Library has always had a strong fan base, particularly when our funding seemed to be threatened. However it is great to see a new fan in the shape of Liz Joseph an inventor. She has started a brand new blog to follow her journey of discovery as she develops her mass-market product.

She has started her route to success by making full use of the wide range of services we offer, and it is great to see her positive comments on the practical benefits these give.

She has already put in for a detailed patent search, so fingers crossed for a positive result there. I look forward to following her adventures as the days and weeks go by.

Business & Intellectual Property Centre (the envy of every business librarian

I know we like to think we are doing a great job here in the Business & IP Centre, but it is great when an external source confirms this for us. Especially when it comes from as far away as Australia.

The case in point is a blog post from the State Library of Western Australia which has picked up on our Weird and Wonderful Gadgets and Inventions small display, but in passing mentions that the Business & IP Centre is “the envy of every business librarian”.

Praise indeed.

BMJ accuses us of repudiation of the role of libraries

I was rather shocked to see this posting on the British Medical Journal’s website. The author Tony Delamothe, the deputy editor of the BMJ, accuses our use of the shed advert (shown here) as “representing an absolute repudiation of the role of libraries”.

Here is the introductory paragraph from his article entitled Amnesia strikes the memory business.

“A poster advertising the British Library’s Business and Intellectual Property Centre shows a padlocked garden shed, on which the following words have been painted: “Inside is your invention. We’ll help you stop it becoming someone else’s.” Nothing could better symbolise the suburban smallmindedness underlying this initiative.”

Fortunately Stephen C. Due a medical librarian from Australia corrected Tony’s misunderstanding of the role of the Business & IP Centre in providing information and advice that helps people protect their intellectual property. As he correctly states “There is nothing in this enterprise that conflicts with the traditional values of libraries – it is essentially no different from advising an author on how to make the most of his or her rights and opportunities under copyright law.”

Thanks Stephen for leaping to our defence!

My colleagues in our Science collection have asked me to point out that the British Library-led partnership was recently chosen to run UK PubMed Central. This enables scientists to access a vast collection of biomedical research thanks to a major new initiative that aims to promote the free transfer of ideas in a bid to speed up scientific discovery. Based on a model currently used in the United States, UK PubMed Central (UKPMC) provides free access to an online digital archive of peer-reviewed research papers in the medical and life sciences.

Also it seems the British Medical Journal is not entirely controversy free when it comes to open access publishing, as can be seen by this discussion thread Access controls on – Restore true open access to

City Information Group visits the Business & IP Centre

In what might be considered something of a busman’s holiday, last night we hosted a visit from the City Information Group. The fifty or so information professionals who came along seemed to be suitably impressed by both our Treasures Gallery and of course the Business and IP Centre itself.

The organiser Jill Fenton has written a nice note in her blog.

Katy Crosse came with a group from TFPL (the Recruitment, Consultancy and Training company), and put a short write-up on their blog.

Apparently the list of attendees was oversubscribed so we may do it again.

Business & IP Centre on the Richard and Judy Show

I know the Business & IP Centre has had a lot of good press coverage since it opened in March 2006. We even had a full page story in the Financial Times and appeared on Working Lunch on BBC2. However, I was very surprised to hear on returning from holiday last week that we would be appearing on Richard and Judy on Channel 4.

In the studio with Richard and Judy
Mark Sheahan (our inventor in residence) and Maurice Collins

The media interest (including a double page spread in the Daily Mail and an interview on the BBC Radio Today Programme) has been caused by our Weird and Wonderful small display currently in the Centre. It consists of over 50 ingenious gadgets, from a two handled self-pouring teapot (1886) to a clockwork burglar alarm (1852).

I first met Maurice Collins, the owner of this amazing collection, at the The British International Innovation & Technology Conference and Exhibition at Alexandra Palace, last October. He is also involved in the Prime Thinkers service for inventors and entrepreneurs I mentioned at the time.

Although we hoped the small display would be of interest to visitors to the British Library, the press interest has taken everyone by surprise.

The Dragons are back

Have just finished watching the first of the new series of BBC’s Dragon’s Den in the hope of catching Ed Wray one of our success stories. He mentioned his BarbeSkew product was going to be appearing in the series but wasn’t allowed to say whether he got backing from the Dragons.

In this evening’s episode I was surprised by Peter Jones investing £75,000 in rock group Hamfatter with an unproven track record of sales, in exchange for 30% of their future royalties. Note – their website was down this evening due to too many visitors.

Since the last series I have begun giving business advice sessions myself, and I have to say that I am not a fan of the way the program turns entrepreneurship into entertainment. In particular I find the flippant comments from the Dragons to the enterprising inventors and business people annoying.

However, despite these criticisms, the questions they ask are often valid, as are many of their observations.

But Peter Jones came out with the quote of the show when referring to a product with a small potential market. He said there was a niche in the market, but no market in the niche.

Sadly I have come across several business ideas that fall into this category.

The Business & IP Centre takes on twitter

First we blogged, then we facebooked, now we are twittering here at the Business & IP Centre.

Although Web 2.0 expert and commenter Leo Laporte has been extolling the virtues of twitter on his (unrelated) shows since it first started a couple of years ago, I remained to be convinced. But now we are engaging with this form of real-time web community to see what will happen.

In order to understand how twitter works have a look at the Twitter in Plain English video below. This is from Common Craft the same people who created the Wikis in Plain English video I blogged about in March.


Alex Bellinger interviews me for SmallBizPod

SmallBizPodAs I mentioned in my previous blog post on our first Facebook event at the Business & IP Centre, Alex Bellinger the founder of SmallBizPod was there with his microphone. His podcast based on interviews at this event were delayed a little by Alastair Darling and his 2008 Budget, but have now gone up on the site here.

Alex BellingerAlthough I felt I rambled on a bit, Alex seems to have kept most of the interview in the final edit. It is a mixture of chat about the Business & IP Centre and the role of Facebook and blogs to promote it to a new audience.

The show also included a cross section of interviews with some of the 50 or so members of our Facebook group who showed up on the evening. Talking of which, I see our membership has now grown to nearly 1,400 members.

The British Library Basements

Easter is the busiest time of the year at the British Library (so be warned if you are expecting a quiet space to do your research). In order to help cope with the volume of requests for books from our capacious basements in St Pancras, staff volunteers are requested.

As a member of staff who rarely visits the basements this is an opportunity not to be missed. After all, the basements are the very foundation of the library, from both a physical and information perspective. The four double height basements containing the bulk of the library’s 15 million books stretch down to 75ft or 23m below ground level. The construction of these required digging the deepest hole ever seen in London. I could hear the nearby sounds of trains on the Northern and Victoria Lines when I was in basement 3.

I spent a fascinating couple of hours re-shelving books in the humanities modern section. However, my trolley contained a random selection of topics giving a revealing glimpse into the subjects being researched above ground, as well as the incredible breadth of knowledge stored below ground.

automatic_crate_conveyor_systemOne fact that often surprises visitors to the basements is that the books are not stored according to any classification system. Although the British Library has adopted the Dewey system in the Reading Rooms, this would not work in the basements. The explanation is simple enough – the sheer volume of new books (6 miles or 13 kilometres) each year means that they have to be added onto the end of the previous set in acquisition order. Any other would require constant shifting of the book stock to make room.

So, for instance if they were in alphabetical order by Title, the Z’s would slot nicely in at the end of the sequence but any new A’s would require moving the whole lot. This results in some vary odd pairings of books on the shelves. I re-shelved a book on Islamic terrorism literally cheek by jowl with a volume on right-wing Jewish politics.

The photos above come from a website Subterranea Britannica which has a detailed article on a visit to the basements.