Thursday, 3 July 2014

Off to the British Library

This morning we trekked to the British Library for a tour. This library is just spectacular. It is the National library of the UK and Ireland, and is a legal deposit library, which means that everything that is published in the UK and Ireland is deposited into the British Library. There are over 200 million items housed in the British Library system, and it grows, on average, by 3 million items (or 9 miles!) a year.  If any of you lovely readers want more fun facts about the library, please visit this link!
The light post is in the way, but it's Alice and
the cheshire cat on the sign!
The British Library was originally part of the British Museum, but as it outgrew its space for collections, there was a definite need for a new building. The architect, Colin St. John Wilson, created the Library at St. Pancras to be designed primarily for book storage and growth. One interesting bit of information we learned was that Wilson designed the British Library to resemble a naval vessel.
Model of the British Library above ground.
The library has many floors below ground level, and we learned on our tour that during the building stages, they had to excavate the tube lines and found plague pits from the time of the Black Death, which I thought was cool, in a slightly creepy way.

The services of the library are organized differently than a normal public lending library. In order to obtain a readers card, you have to know exactly what materials you need to see from the collection. It is an easy, yet slightly time-consuming process to get the readers card, but once you have one, you have access to the collection, as well as access to the reading rooms.  In order to get materials, you have to order them from storage, and the materials are pulled from the shelf, placed on a track that sends the material to its appropriate place, and then is delivered to you in the reading room. There is over 1 mile of delivery track in the building, and it takes approximately 70 minutes for standard delivery of an item--20 minutes of that time is spent on the track. 

One of the most interesting parts of the library, in my opinion, is the King's Library, or the George III Collection. This collection is situated in a tower in the middle of the library. King George III decided early on in his reign that he wanted a library fit for a monarch. He began collecting private libraries as well as individual volumes of materials for this library. The collection was given to the British Museum by George IV, with the understanding that the collection would not be separated. The collection was moved to this tower in 1998.

Here are some other pictures of items from the British Library collection that we saw on our tour:

The world's smallest atlas

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