Web Magazine for Information Professionals

The British Libraries Private Finance Initiative

The British Library's Digital Library Programme gives Ariadne an exclusive on its Private Finance Initiative.

The Digital Library Programme [1] has been set up by the British Library following the progress made during the widely publicised Initiatives for Access [2] programme which examined the application of new technologies to the Library. The Programme comprises a number of activities across the Library aimed at providing the Library with the capabilities to acquire, store, preserve and access collection materials in digital form.

The Digital Library is the widely accepted term describing the use of digital technologies to acquire, store, conserve and provide access to information and material whether originally published in digital form or digitised from print, audio-visual and other forms. The aim is to improve, for all its users, access to collections maintained by the BL. The Digital Library will involve a number of partner organisations who will contribute expertise and resources to the project.

The remit of the Digital Library Programme is a broad one and encompasses a wide range of development activities. Because of its developmental nature, the Programme has a limited life and has as an objective the integration of the digital library activities with the totality of the Library's operations.

The Programme comprises the following:

Digital Library Programme

As the Digital Library Programme is composed of several constituent projects, of which the PFI is only a part, information is presented below at the project level.

The PFI Project

The Digital Library Development Project aims to provide the Library with the capabilities to acquire, store, preserve and access collection materials in digital form. It is expected that these developments will be achieved through partnering with the private sector, using the Private Finance Initiative (PFI).

As a first step, the Digital Library Programme Board has approved the placing of a Notice [5] in the Official Journal of the European Communities (OJEC), advertising a market sounding exercise. This Notice will be officially published by 17 February 1997. A market sounding exercise involves wide-ranging discussion with the private sector on the broad requirements which the Library has and will specify in the OJEC Notice. This market sounding is undertaken in order to enable the Library to obtain a view of the private sector's likely response to the ideas put forward, and to allow time for the Library to develop a full statement of its requirements before the official tendering phase. The market sounding exercise will last a number of months.

Following the market sounding phase, the next step in the PFI process is for the Library to go to full competitive tender; this is done again by means of a Notice in the OJEC. The tendering process will sift responders and shortlist a small number with whom detailed negotiations will then take place. This negotiation process will result in the award of a contract. This phase could last up to one year.

The Digital Datastore Development (3D)

The 3D Project was begun in 1995 in an attempt to define the business and technical requirements for the Library in developing its use of digital data. A substantial amount of work was carried out by contributors from across the Library in the second half of 1995 on defining business requirements. The 3D Project has the following aims:


During 1996 a number of initiatives for the use of digital material were under way or planned. Some, such as that for the [6] Document Supply Centre, emerged as part of their business plan. Others came forward as opportunities revealed themselves, either through the exploitation of data created under the Initiatives for Access [2] programme, or as a greater understanding of the potential of the technology permeates the organisation and potential partner institutions.

The Development Project Team

The Library has recently created the new post of Director, Digital Library Development Programme. This post is occupied by David Inglis [7].

There is a team of 7 staff including David Inglis. Two other projects are led by the Team - the Legal Deposit of Non Print Material [8] and the Network OPAC for Europe. The Team is based in the newly designated Research and Innovation Centre in Sheraton Street, London. The Centre's Director, Nigel Macartney, has overall responsibility for steering the project. Supervision for the Digital Library Project comes from the Programme Board, chaired by David Russon, Deputy Chief Executive of the Library, and from a number of other directors which all have a major stake in the success of the project.

In addition, staff from the Document Supply Centre [6], SRIS [9] and the Historical Collection areas [10] are beginning to become involved.

Two advisers have been appointed to the Digital Library Development Programme. KPMG [11] will be acting as the Financial Advisor in investigations into a PFI. Denton Hall [12] will be providing legal advice for the Programme on both PFI and aspects of intellectual property rights. For further information please see the Digital Library homepage [1], or contact


John Draper
Project Manager
Digital Library Programme
British Library
2 Sheraton Street
United Kingdom

Email John Draper on digital- programme@bl.uk



[1] British Library Digital Library Programme

[2] Initiatives for Access Programme

[3] Private Finance Initiative Web pages

[4] The "Inside" service, mounted on Portico

[5] Notice advertising a market sounding exercise

[6] British Library Document Supply Centre

[7] The British Library Research and Innovation Centre news column

[8] Legal Deposit of Non Print Material

[9] The British Library Science Reference and Information Service (SRIS)

[10] The British Library Historical Collection

[11] KPMG Web site

[12] Denton Hall Web site