Building a robust foundation

The British Library

Web architecture and user journeys embedded throughout the organisation

The British Library (BL) is the national library of the United Kingdom. With a collection including more than 170 million items, it’s one of the world’s largest libraries. Each year, 1.6 million people visit the library’s two main locations in London and Yorkshire, and their website users generate 6 million catalogue searches and consult almost 4 million items online every year.

The British Library engaged Novicell to conduct an audit of their web architecture to examine how they could realise the full potential of their web solution. By choosing Novicell as their digital partner, the British Library established a strong foundation for optimising their platform and collaboration across the entire organisation, as well as progressing with their digital transformation.

Challenge: Organisational discontent towards Sitecore platform

The British Library had been running on their Sitecore platform for a few years but there was a widely held view that the platform wasn’t delivering what it promised and expectations weren’t being met. From the developers working hands to stakeholders representing the business units, Sitecore had lost its initial lustre from when it was implemented.

This had resulted in some mixed feelings about the platform within the organisation, and Sitecore was no longer regarded as the system of choice, but rather the system of obligation.

BL’s Sitecore platform had ‘wandered off’ to such an extent that BL considered moving to another platform. They asked Novicell to take a look at the engine of the platform to see where the problems were lying.

Investigation: Technical and organisational audit

The scope of the project was to audit the existing Sitecore installation and to examine the wider range of technologies used to deliver BL’s web estate. The subsequent step was then to reflect on whether it was feasible for BL to continue with Sitecore as their web platform.

Novicell’s team, consisting of an IT architect and Sitecore tech lead, among others, began a technical and organisational audit, in which they investigated the following aspects:

  • How Sitecore interfaced with systems, people and the organisation at large.
  • Which technologies and systems were being used (besides Sitecore) and how they related to the website.
  • The challenges directly relevant to the future success of the platform.

By looking into the source code and interviewing stakeholders, Novicell discovered some key issues resulting in the platform not being used according to best practice:

  1. From a technical point of view, Sitecore wasn’t being used for its intended purpose, which is a master of content management in BL’s ecosystem. Because not every department was keen on using Sitecore to leverage content management, the platform had ended up being an expensive, slow and uninspiring way to build websites, rather than its real role as an enterprise component to manage publicly visible content.

  2. Another observation was that, in terms of content management, there was no clear definition of content and how to manage it in Sitecore. This was very unhelpful and counterproductive to the overall benefits that Sitecore should bring to an organisation.


Based on the findings and observations, we came up with a list of recommendations and reflections on best practice. Some of the key recommendations were to:

Promote Sitecore

Take ownership

Go headless

Promote Sitecore

BL had a perception that the only way forward was to migrate to another platform. However, based on our investigation and knowledge, we recommended that BL should recommit to Sitecore and the idea of centralised content management for publicly visible content. The problem wasn’t Sitecore as a platform but the way that it was being used/not used across the organisation.

Take ownership

BL needed to own the Sitecore architecture. A set of architectural guidelines would enable BL to have third parties develop parts of the web platform. We also recommended that BL should start working with a User Journey concept that spans the entire domain of BL.

Go headless

With a commitment to using Sitecore as CMS and a new-found sense of ownership of the architecture and the user journey, we also recommended that BL should manage content in a headless CMS. BL should still have core library sites created in Sitecore, but by going headless it would enable both internal and external development to build web experiences on top of the content managed in Sitecore. Furthermore, it would then be possible to embrace new technologies, expanding what BL has to offer their customers.

Hear more about our collaboration with
The British Library

If you have any questions about our collaboration, please send me an e-mail.