The Wellcome Library is one of the world’s great cultural treasures: a unique and ever-growing collection of archives, manuscripts, books, journals, art and ephemera that document the place of health and medicine across cultures and over time. We are part of Wellcome Collection, one of London’s fastest-growing and most innovative visitor destinations.
Like all libraries, we face the challenge of moving from an environment dominated by physical content to one in which we also serve a global audience for online content. Our five-year plan for transforming the Wellcome Library from a physical resource into a ground-breaking digital library will enable access to our collections from anywhere, and will allow new audiences to engage with our collections.
Our vision and mission
Our vision is to be the pre-eminent destination - physical and online - for anyone interested in exploring health in its cultural and historical contexts.
Our mission is to encourage new insights by building and sharing our collections in ways that stimulate, enlighten and surprise our users.
At the heart of our strategy are three core activities:
- targeted collecting
- strategic digitisation
- expert interpretation.
We will proactively seek out new material to add to the Library, reflecting the key changes in the biomedical sciences over the past 50 years. Our collecting activity will echo the major challenges identified in the Wellcome Trust’s strategic plan. We will continue to acquire important and unique material relating to other periods and cultures, but our priority is to ensure that we identify and preserve the evidence that will enable current and future generations of researchers to understand modern biomedicine in its cultural context.
The global health challenges that underpin the Trust’s strategy, and our collecting policy, are:
- genetics and genomics (including the longer history of heredity)
- mental health and neuroscience
- infectious disease
- chronic disease and ageing
- the connections between environment, nutrition and health.
We will also continue to acquire secondary sources - in all formats - that help contextualise the history of health, and material that reflects upon and explores the place of medicine in society today, including the outputs of Trust-funded public engagement projects.
To make our collections available to anyone, anywhere, we are digitising as much of our physical collection as we can, for both our website and the websites of other organisations. We are also digitising and hosting collections from partners that complement our holdings.
We select material based on the strengths of our holdings and the interests of current or potential audiences. We also aim to create significant online resources that stimulate research into the same global health themes that underpin our collecting strategy. To do this, we are tackling issues related to copyright and sensitivity that have inhibited the ability or willingness of others to digitise collections of modern material. We participate in national and international policy debate and seek to engage stakeholders in the creation of practical and scalable solutions to these challenges.
We have developed our capacity to create, store and deliver digital content. We are exploring commercial partnerships where we feel that external investment or expertise will help us find new audiences. Revenue generation will never be a priority for these partnerships: instead, we will seek to trade income for enhanced access for users, especially in low-income countries.
It is no longer sufficient for us to simply act as custodians of our collections, and facilitate access to them. We will become active interpreters of the rich and diverse material we hold, helping our users to understand the value of the material we acquire and preserve, and encouraging new audiences to engage with our collections through innovative tools and authoritative content about the material we have digitised. The Library staff are active contributors to the mission of Wellcome Collection, a free visitor destination that explores the connections between medicine, life and art in the past, present and future.
To do this, we will work closely with external researchers to share their knowledge with our audiences. We encourage staff to develop their own subject expertise and to use this to foster public engagement with our collections and subjects. For example, we contribute to the creation of exhibitions and event programmes within Wellcome Collection and beyond. We also work with colleagues within the Wellcome Trust and its grant holders to ensure that the Library is an active centre for scholarly activity. We host research seminars and lectures, and we publish academic research by staff.
The Library as destination
Imaginative and innovative use of our collections, physical space and website is enabling us to develop the Library as a distinct destination: a place where researchers, academics, students, professionals and members of the public can discover, experience and engage with collections and ideas.