Creating a national digital presence for public libraries

The British Library


Our focus was how to improve the experience of using a public library in both its physical and digital form

dxw partnered with the British Library to create and validate concepts for a national digital presence for public libraries in the UK

The British Library’s ‘Single Digital Presence’ project has been exploring how public libraries can use digital to provide better services and attract new people. 

A national digital presence for public libraries should support their work with local communities through things like national content, campaigns and services. Libraries already provide front-line support for local businesses and job-seekers and run digital skills and information literacy sessions. The expectation is that demand for this type of support will increase in a post pandemic world.


We spoke to librarians, library staff, people who currently use libraries and those who don’t, and found a significant need and appetite for a national digital presence for public libraries. We identified 3 priorities:

  1. Provide a space to showcase the work of libraries and show potential users the variety of activities and services offered
  2. Create a recognised identity for public libraries, becoming a focal point for national campaigns
  3. Connect users to their local library service seamlessly and intuitively

Our other main finding was that the development of a national digital presence should happen alongside work to find a way for every public library to have a web presence that reflects the vibrancy and individuality of their service.

What we did

Our focus was on how we can improve the experience of using a public library in both its physical and digital form, through the development of intuitive, well-designed online presences. 

Building our understanding

During discovery we pulled together existing research and interviewed a number of people, including peers from the New York Public Library, the National Library of Australia and the National Library of Scotland.

Our research helped us understand the existing digital capability across the library sector and the landscape a new service would operate in, as well as learning from the experience of others. As a result, we decided to focus on 2 opportunity areas in our design sprints:

  1. How to present an engaging national identity for public libraries, that properly showcases library culture and connects people to their local library
  2. A way for every local library to represent themselves as a unique place and community, whilst engaging and informing the public in an authoritative and trusted place

We learned that the word ‘digital’ means different things to different people. It could be the systems used to manage collections and user data, it could be the digital services libraries provide such as e/audiobooks and online resources, or it could be the ways users find out about libraries online, on their websites, apps and social media pages. 

Isolating ‘digital’ as one discreet part of what libraries do obscures how digital underpins all the services libraries offer, both in the physical and online world.

Mapping the user journey and testing our prototype

The next stage was to map the user journey for core users and identify possible solutions. We then created a prototype service for a connected end to end journey from a national to local presence. The joint dxw and British Library team tested the prototype with librarians and library staff from across the country, and with people who do and don’t use libraries at the moment. 

At the end of discovery, we’d evidenced 4 clear recommendations. At a high level these were to:

  1. Build a national digital presence for public libraries
  2. Help every local library to curate an engaging digital presence
  3. Promote regional library consortia for shared lending
  4. Create community guidance and resources for safe and effective use of social media

This will form part of a comprehensive digital transformation strategy for public libraries to be published soon.