I’m very excited to be going to the British Library this morning to register
as a Reader. I’ve only been there once before to visit The Royal Manuscripts Exhibition which knocked my socks off but I didn’t have time to prowl around the rest. I’m going to research for the 50s book and also take the opportunity of meeting an old school friend for lunch whom I love dearly and hardly ever see these days.
The British Library is the national library of Great Britain. It is situated right next to Kings Cross/St Pancras station which makes it jolly handy for me coming from the East Midlands and means I can sit on a train, read, work, stare out of the window or talk to strangers, all of which I love to do.
The Library’s collections include around 14 million books, along with substantial holdings of manuscripts and historical items dating back as far as 2000 BC. It is one of the two largest libraries in the world, the other being The Library of Congress in America.
It was originally a department of The British Museum and from the middle of the 1800s it occupied the renowned circular British Museum Reading Room. It split off by act of parliament in 1973 and in 1997 moved to its new, purpose-built premises at St Pancras.
For many years its collections were dispersed around various sites in London and the rest of England but as new sections of the library were completed, the collections were gradually brought on site. This has culminated in the completion of the Newspaper Storage Building and the existing collection housed at Colindale will move in at the end of this year. The library adds around three million items each year and the shelf space expands by six miles each year to accommodate it.
And it isn’t just books and manuscripts. It now contains digital books, journals, newspapers, magazines, sound and music recordings, videos, play scripts, patents, databases, maps, stamps, prints, and drawings. Bang in the middle of the building is a six-storey glass tower containing the collection of George III which, alone, includes 65,000 printed volumes, pamphlets, manuscripts and maps.
And then there’s the Dickens, The Lindisfarne Gospels, the various bibles, the only surviving Beowulf, Alice…..
Unfortunately I have just nerded all over the floor and need a strong cup of coffee so that I will be safe to drive to the station. Wish me ‘Good Hunting’.