Monday, 20 July 2009

The British Library - 7/16/09

On Thursday, July 16th we went to The British Library. This beautiful building is the equivalent to the United States’ Library of Congress. It is a fully functional copyright library that grows 12.5 kilometers every year! Their collection consists of 14 million books, 920,000 journal and newspaper titles, 58 million patents, and 3 million sound recordings. They receive a copy of every publication produced in the UK and Ireland! The British Library serves business and industry, researchers, academics and students, in the UK and world-wide. Each year nearly six million searches are generated by the British Library online catalogue, and roughly 400,000 visit one of the libraries Reading Rooms. They issue about 300 new library cards everyday!

Some interesting collections that the library houses is their philatelic collection which includes 8 million stamps and other philatelic items A very noticeable collection is contained in a tall glass tower in the center of the foyer area. It is called the King's Library Tower and consists of books collected by King George III who reigned from 1760 to 1820. Other great treasures in the British Library include Shakespeare in Quarto, William Caxton's two editions of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, the Gutenberg Bible, The Magna Carta, some Renaissance Festival Books including 253 books about festivals and ceremonies in Europe from 1475 to 1700, and a Sample of Malory's Arthurian manuscript. Some of my favorites included some Beatles manuscripts, a very old copy of Dante’s Divine Comedy, and some original Lewis Carroll Alice and Wonderland things. They also offer these computer type machines that use Turning the Pages™' software to leaf through some of the greatest books including A selection of Leonardo da Vinci sketches, Images from Alice's Adventures Under Ground Written and illustrated by Lewis Carroll, Mozart's musical diary, Codex Sinaiticus, an early work form Jane Austen, and many more. The British Library also house the largest book in the work. It is the Klencke Atlas from 1660.

I found the book retrieval process fascinating! The reader picks which books he/she wants to look at from the online catalog. The information is then sent to the basement and is then put on a little train system to travel up to over a mile long journey to the patron who awaits in it one of the reading rooms.

We also had a tour of the preservation and conservation studio. This too was phenomenal. I don't think that people realize what steps are taken to conserving and preserving old books and manuscripts. The tour seemed rushed and short, but I was glad to at least have a small glimpse of what they do.

In all this was a fascinating experience. I have never been to visit the Library of Congress in the United States, but it will now be a major priority for me!! To see the workings of a national library was amazing and I'm grateful for the opportunity.

Link to The British Library

Exterior view of the British Library
*Photo courtesy of

Interior view of the British Library (King George III collection)
*Photo courtesy of

1 comment:

  1. This Library sounds fascinating! and very immense! To bad you didn't get more time to check out more things.