British Library
Image: British Library

British Library restores access to online collection following ransomware attack

The British Library — the national library of the United Kingdom and an archive of millions of books and manuscripts — began restoring access to its online catalog on Monday following a ransomware attack last October.

A wide range of services across the library were shuttered in the attack, claimed by the Rhysida gang — a ransomware-as-a-service group — that subsequently attempted to sell the library’s stolen personnel data.

The loss of the online catalog — described as “one of the most important datasets for researchers around the world” by the library’s chief executive, Sir Roly Keating — has been one of the most impactful aspects of the incident.

The online system, for now, will be the only way to see the rarest books, maps, journals and music scores held by the library. The system for taking those physical objects into reading rooms is not yet running again.

Keating said that otherwise, “the majority of the Library's key special collections – the archives, manuscripts and other unique items that are only available here” will be accessible from this week in an on-site capacity.

“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,” said Keating.

“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.”

Despite this, the chief executive stressed “there are many further steps ahead,” and noted that some content held by the British Library is not yet available either in-person or as part of its digital collections.

Other disruptions from the ransomware attack included the payment system for authors, who receive around 13 pence every time one of their books is borrowed from a public library, capped at £6,600 annually.

The payment typically arrives in winter, as reported by The Guardian, providing a much-needed financial boost to many authors. “This year’s payments will be made by, at the latest, the statutory deadline at end of March,” stated Keating.

In his statement, Keating thanked “the many colleagues who have been working hard over recent weeks to make all of these latest developments possible,” alongside the library’s users “for the patience and support you have shown so far.”

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Alexander Martin

Alexander Martin

is the UK Editor for Recorded Future News. He was previously a technology reporter for Sky News and is also a fellow at the European Cyber Conflict Research Initiative.