British Library Online Main Catalogue Announcement Following Cyber Attack

Tony Antoniou

The British Library from the air

The British Library has today confirmed plans to return its main catalogue online on January 15 following the major cyber attack at the end of October 2023 which also saw hackers leaking personal data belonging to users and library staff.

In a new blog post, chief executive Roly Keating said the absence of its main catalogue of more than 36 million records, including printed books, journals, maps, music scores and rare books had been "perhaps the single most visible impact" of the attack. Acknowledging the problems this has caused for users, he added that it will initially be 'read-only', with a new process introduced for checking availability and ordering for to use in the Reading Rooms. 

He went on to add that access to the majority of the Library's key special collections including manuscripts will also open from next week.

"Taken together these developments mean that for the first time since the attack the majority of physical books, archives, maps and manuscripts held in the basements at our St Pancras site will once again be discoverable and useable by our Readers," he said. "Although the processes may be slower and more manual than we’ve all been used to, this is the familiar heart of the Library’s offering to researchers and restores a core element of our public service. It will be good to have it back."

However, he added that the full technical rebuild and recovery, such as restoring access fully to the library's Boston Spa site and some digital collections, would take longer to achieve.

"It has been a sobering couple of months for all of us at the British Library," said Keating, "and we’re determined that others benefit from the experience we have been through. What happened to us in October has implications for the whole collections sector, and in the months ahead we will begin to share the lessons we’ve learned from this experience with our partners and peer institutions."

"We’re also determined that we learn those lessons ourselves, and use this as a moment not just to replicate the systems we ran before, but to improve as we rebuild. At the time the hackers hit we were embarking on a significant round of fresh investment in our core technology infrastructure, as part of the Knowledge Matters strategy we launched last May. That work will now be accelerated, to ensure that what emerges from this unwanted attack is a strengthened British Library that is as ready as it can possibly be to confront whatever future threats emerge from the constantly evolving world of cyber crime."

A further ongoing issue has been the library's annual provision of payments to authors of UK Public Lending Right (PLR) and Keating reiterated previous reassurances that "workaround systems are being put in place to ensure that this year’s payments will be made by, at the latest, the statutory deadline at end of March."