Mahendra Mahey

Building Better Global Digital Cultural Heritage Innovation Through Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAM) Labs

The British Library is one of the largest national libraries in the world and is creating and storing millions of digital items every year such as digitised booksnewspapersmapssheet musicmanuscriptsaudio / TV recordings as well as born digital archived websitespersonal digital archiveselectronic booksradioperformances, and artworks. This incredible range of digital material is having a profound effect on the way our libraries are supporting those who want to use digital content and methods in their work. What new facts will scholars discover when they analyse thousands of digitised books computationally using data-mining techniques? What are the challenges and solutions for libraries to build systems and services that provide seamless access to its digital material from a radio recording to newspaper story? What are the practical experiences of working on digital crowdsourcing projects, and how is machine learning really helping libraries to unlock new information hidden in its digital archives? Can we use digital technologies to visualise and shine light on a library’s holdings, and unearth unusual and surprising findings artistically?

Mahendra will give a brief overview of digital collections and data being made available through British Library Labs (BL Labs) and examine how some of them have been re-used by making connections and collaborating with digital researchers, artists, entrepreneurs, educators, curators and librarians around the world through a range of innovative projects, research questions and engagement activities. He will highlight the myths and assumptions many make about libraries and address the significant issues and challenges they face when working with digital collections and data (e.g. legal, technical, human etc.). He will reflect on lessons he has learned over nearly two decades of working in Further and Higher Education, suggesting the types of digital research that could bring significant benefit and impact to the way libraries in particular may work into the future.

To conclude, Mahendra will report back on an exciting international support network that is being developed with colleagues around the world. This community is bringing national, state, university and public libraries together that either had, are planning or already have experimental digital ‘Library Labs’ which encourage their users to re-use their digital collections and data. The group are already providing support to each other, sharing expertise, knowledge and experience and are pooling resources together in order to build better innovative digital ‘GLAM Labs’ that bring value to their organisations and users well into the future. They published a practical open access book in October 2019 entitled ‘Open a GLAM Lab’ which provides advice and guidance for GLAMs who are in process of setting up or currently running digital innovation ‘GLAM Labs’.

Mahendra tweets at @BL_Labs and @mahendra_mahey

Mahendra Mahey is the manager of British Library Labs (BL Labs) (, which was an Andrew W. Mellon foundation and now solely British Library funded initiative supporting and inspiring the use of the its data in innovative ways ( BL Labs encourages and helps scholars, artists, entrepreneurs, educators and innovators to work with the BL’s digital collections through competitions, awards and other engagement activities. Mahendra is working with colleagues on developing an international support network with colleagues to bring Galleries, Libraries (national, state, university and public) Archives, Museum (GLAM) digital Labs together that either had, are planning and already have digital experimental ‘Labs’ to share expertise, knowledge and experience in order to build better ‘GLAM Labs’ for their organisations and users ( He recently worked with colleagues to write a handbook to help GLAMs ensure that digital innovation Labs thrive in their organisations.