British Library starts restoring services online after hack

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By Noor Nanji

Culture correspondent

The British Library’s main catalogue, with more than 36 million records, is returning online on Monday after last year’s cyber attack.

It is the first significant step in the complete restoration of services for those using the UK’s largest library.

But the catalogue will just be available in a “read-only” format.

“Full recovery of all our services will be a gradual process,” its chief executive has warned.

The hack on 31 October resulted in the British Library’s website being down for almost a month.

The Rhysida ransomware group claimed to be behind the attack.

And in November, the library confirmed some employee data had been leaked in the attack.

The world-renowned library has one of the largest book collections in the world.

Its main catalogue – which includes details of its printed and rare books, as well as journals, maps and music scores – is hugely important for researchers around the world.

But since the hack, users have been unable to access it on the internet.

Chief executive Sir Roly Keating said its absence had been “perhaps the single most visible impact” of the cyber attack and acknowledged “how difficult this has been for all our users,” writing in a blog post last week.

He apologised that researchers who rely for their studies, and in some cases their livelihoods, on access to the library’s collections have been deprived of it in recent months.

But he cautioned the return of the main catalogue would not function as before for now.

While users will be able to search for items, checking availability and ordering them to use in the reading rooms will be different.

The library is expected to provide more information on Monday.

From this week readers will also be provided with access to most of the library’s key special collections, including the archives, manuscripts and other unique items but will need to come in person to consult offline versions of specialist catalogues.

“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,” Sir Roly said.

Access to the range of content held at the library’s Boston Spa site and also to parts of its digital collections currently unavailable will follow.

Earlier this month, the Financial Times suggested rebuilding the British Library’s digital services could come to £7m but Sir Roly said speculation on the recovery costs were “premature”.