Officially opened this evening by the Minister for Schools, Nick Gibb MP, the Learning Centre will provide a bright, spacious and inspiring space in which young learners will be able to explore the Library’s collections and develop their digital research skills. The 500,000 project was funded by donations from the Dorset Foundation, the Wolfson Foundation, John Lyon’s Charity, British Library Patrons and others. Construction and refurbishment work took place during the summer with minimal disruption to the Learning programme.
Schools Minister Nick Gibb said, “The British Library has for centuries been the vault for all that has been written and thought in our culture. This new Learning Centre will add to that tradition by helping spread that knowledge and literature to thousands of students across the country. From the outreach activities for schools to the after-school projects for young people, I am delighted that the Library’s Learning Centre will be able to develop and make the most of the British Library’s historic and fascinating collections of books, newspapers, manuscripts and maps.”
Around 17,000 young learners and 3,000 teachers, adult learners and family groups take part in the British Library’s Learning Programme every year, which is aimed mainly at secondary school pupils (aged 11-19) but also caters for younger and older groups. Through workshops, curator talks and tours, learners explore primary sources such as historic newspapers, diaries, manuscripts, sound recordings and maps, developing their research skills in subjects ranging from History and English Language to Citizenship and Religious Education. See: www.bl.uk/learning
The Learning Centre is fully digitally-enabled, with laptops for every pupil, electronic whiteboards, state of the art audio-visual facilities and – for the first time – video-conferencing facilities and remote viewing equipment, which will allow workshops and curator talks using collection items to be offered to similarly-equipped schools anywhere in the country.
The British Library’s Head of Learning, Roger Walshe, said, “We’re tremendously excited about the facilities we can now offer pupils and teachers through the Harry M Weinrebe Learning Centre. The previous Education Room was a well-used facility but was not ideal for larger groups or longer sessions; by removing some walls and expanding the facility into neighbouring areas we’ve created a very versatile and inspiring space – the feedback we’ve had from the teachers and pupils who have seen it has been terrific.
“The new Learning Centre enables us to provide a much richer learning experience – particularly in relation to digital research skills, which is one of the key areas of expertise that the Library wishes to develop – both for pupils and teachers. Over the past decade, the British Library has digitised millions of historic items from our collections. The challenge now is to demonstrate to pupils and their teachers how these primary materials can be used to add depth and richness to their studies – whether it’s a newspaper report of the Battle of Waterloo or a handwritten draft of a Wilfred Owen poem from the First World War.”
School groups will be using the Learning Centre from next week and an extensive programme of workshops and study sessions is planned for the Library’s forthcoming major exhibition on the English language, Evolving English: One Language, Many Voices, which opens on November 12.
Frances Brindle, the British Library’s Director of Strategic Marketing and Communications, said: “The young learners of today become the professional and postgraduate researchers of tomorrow, so we’re delighted to be able to offer this much-improved facility for school groups, which will offer them the best possible introduction to and gateway into the British Library’s unparalleled collections. We’re particularly pleased that we were able to fund the Learning Centre thanks to the generosity of the Dorset Foundation, the Wolfson Foundation, John Lyon’s Charity, British Library Patrons and others, without having to draw upon the public purse.”