Kristian Jensen


Head of Collections and Curation, British Library

Collaborating and Engaging. Working with Cultural Heritage from a British Library Perspective

All parts of the British Library’s collections are part of the world’s cultural heritage. Even contemporary collections of specialist literature on natural science or medicine can be considered cultural heritage: they may be investigated not straightforwardly for the data they contain but, for instance, as evidence of how we as a society organise and understand our investigation of the natural world, as cultural manifestations.

It is our users, not us, who determine the intellectual use made of our collections. This also means that the same collection or collection item can be considered as cultural heritage from many different perspectives, potentially conflicting.  We welcome this plurality and should facilitate a variety of interpretations of cultural heritage, believing that the cultural creation of one part of humanity is specific to the circumstances its creation, but also an expression of a shared, universal and understandable, humanity.

This does not mean that we are entirely reactive. On the contrary within a necessary framework of prioritisation, we work to anticipate the needs and interests of audiences national and internationally who are either numerically significant or for whom we may be uniquely important.

In this talk I will explore through some examples how the British Library seeks to manage and develop its heritage collections and to make its accessible and meaningful to various types of audiences, often simultaneously fulfilling its obligations to preserve its collections for the use of future researchers.

Kristian Jensen is Head of Collections and Curation at the British Library, with responsibility for the Library’s collections with a wide chronological and geographical coverage, ranging from the earliest items in the collection, some 3000 years old,   to current web archiving. A classicist by formation, with his first degree from the University of Copenhagen and a PhD from the European University Institute in Florence, he has worked with libraries and collections since 1985 when he joined the Bodleian Library in Oxford. He moved to the British Library in 1999. With wide ranging responsibilities he takes a special interest in the management of cultural property, collection security and collection development.
He is a Director of the Consortium of European Research Libraries and Chair of the Consortium’s Collection Security Working Group; represents the BL on the working group on spoliation of the National Museum Directors’ Conference; Senior Vice-President of the Bibliographical Society.

His research interests include:
The role of concepts such as memory, memorialisation and commemoration for the formation and functioning of institutions which are sometimes described as memory institutions; the concept of cultural property and its role in this area
Collection history, spanning the 15th-19th centuries: with a focus on the political, symbolic and intellectual function of collecting and of collections, including the use of collections for reinterpreting the past for new purposes
15th and 16th-century book history: He is interested in how interaction between the commercial needs of publishers/printers and the requirements of their customers shapes bodies of texts and the patters of the use of texts and books. He is interested in the institutional and non-institutional setting of academic disciplines how this relates to the history of the production, distribution, use, and ownership of university text books; in the relationship between books as merchandise and as conveyors of meaning, attitudes, and knowledge.