British Library: Improving Search and Content

British Library: Improving the Search Experience and Content Usability

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and the second largest library in the world by number of items catalogued, with well over 150 million items from many countries. As a legal deposit library, the British Library receives copies of all books and journals produced in the United Kingdom and Ireland, including a significant proportion of overseas titles distributed in the UK.

What the British Library Wanted

To improve our services for everyone who wants to do research, the British Library needed to investigate how users currently discover and retrieve content at the Library, focusing on:

  • The current search experience on the main catalogue, containing millions of items
  • How easy it is for users to view content, in person at the Library and online
  • How the British Library compares to other similar institutions

What Bunnyfoot Delivered

  • A stakeholder workshop to establish user types and create sketch personas
  • 6 stakeholder interviews to understand current business processes and pain points
  • 12 lab-based user testing sessions in London and Sheffield with existing and potential Library users
  • 2 days of contextual enquiry and onsite observation to understand the different journeys of new and regular users at the Library
  • Review of the search experience on 4 comparable catalogues from both university and national libraries
  • An experience map showing a user’s path from first hearing about the British Library to studying with items at the Library
  • Reports of findings
  • Multiple stakeholder presentations

Contextual enquiry was carried out on-site for British Library

The Results

  • Evidence to inform strategic decisions to achieve the British Library’s vision, of making our intellectual heritage accessible to everyone, for research, inspiration and enjoyment in a digital, global age
  • Increased understanding of different types of users, and their different needs and perceptions of the British Library
  • Increased knowledge of the severity of existing usability issues by understanding their impact on users’ journeys
  • Validation of internal hypotheses around issues caused by existing infrastructure and constraints
  • Awareness of comparable library catalogues’ strengths to leverage or adapt their approach where appropriate
  • Evidence about existing processes that are proven to work well

An affinity map of the findings of the contextual enquiry


Bunnyfoot delivered a very high-quality research study, with strong evidence and clear recommendations. This evidence has helped motivate staff at all levels to act on the results – which is exactly what we wanted. The researchers and other Bunnyfoot staff were all extremely professional, hardworking, innovative and a delight to work with.


Sally Halper, Head of Research Service and Content Strategy
British Library


I commission and manage a lot of user research, and I can say Bunnyfoot were extremely professional, well-organised and pleasant. I’d have no hesitation in recommending them!


Fiona McCarthy, Customer Insight Manager
British Library

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