Top job: Mary Canavan, director of human resources at the British Library

Mary Canavan has been appointed director of Human Resources at the British Library.
She will be responsible for the development and implementation of a modernising
HR strategy for the UK national library’s 2,500-strong workforce.

Where were you working before and what were your duties?

I developed HR strategies in the context of local government when head of HR
at the London Borough of Havering, where modernising people practices have been
high on the agenda.

What will be the duties in your new role?

The British Library is embarking on an ambitious modernisation strategy
which requires major change across many aspects of HR, and a real commitment to
ensuring the people agenda is centre-stage. My role will be to develop a
strategically focused and effective HR function in tune with the needs of the

What do you hope to achieve in your new role?

To develop a proactive HR strategy which facilitates and supports the future
growth and success of the library.

Which aspects are you most looking forward to?

Working with a diverse group of staff who are employed in activities such as
conserving ancient manuscripts or developing ground-breaking digitisation

What is the strangest situation you have been in at work?

Sitting opposite my boss when part of a ceiling fell down on him.

Who is the ultimate Guru?

Nelson Mandela because of his capacity to forgive and lead his country
through momentous change.

What is the best thing about HR?

The range of different people you work with on a daily basis.

How do you fill your spare time?

Catching up with friends over excellent food and wine.

What is the greatest risk you have ever taken?

Climbing Ayers Rock, because I am terrified of heights.

What is the essential tool in your job?


What advice would you give people starting out in HR?

Don’t specialise too early and get as much general experience as you can.

Do you network?

Yes, it’s a crucial part of being effective in my job.

If you could do any job in the world what would it be?

To own my own restaurant on the beautiful island of Paxos.

Who would play you in the film of your life?

Judi Dench, because she’s a strong woman with a sense of humour.

Canavan’s CV

2003    Director
of HR, London Borough of Havering

2003    Head of HR, London
Borough of Havering

1998    Senior HR manager,
London Borough of Enfield

1993    Personnel manager,
London Borough of Waltham Forest

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