Today we toured the British Library. The British Library is a National Repository Library, which means they get a copy of everything published in the United Kingdom. For this reason, the collection grows by about 3 million items each year. The British Library was actually a part of the British Museum until very recently. In fact, the current building was opened in 1997.
The British Library has eleven reading rooms and 1000 members of staff on site. There are an additional 1000 employees at the off-site storage areas. The library's collection contains both print and digital resources. In addition, there are eight million stamps!
Outside the British Library
Our tour guide first showed us a model of the British Library's main building. Interestingly, more of the British Library is underground than above. The books are stored in a temperature and humidity controlled area underground. However, since the collection is so large, there are multiple off-site storage areas around England.
The model of the British Library.
Our tour guide took us behind the scenes to learn how the books are brought out of the stacks for patrons to use. When a patron requests a book, a ticket is printed. At this point, a member of staff retrieves the ticket and the book, and leaves a duplicate ticket on the book's shelf, marking its spot. The book is then placed on an automated track. The library has 1.2 miles of track throughout the building. A book usually spends about twenty minutes on the track before being delivered to the reading room. At this point, the patron is notified that their book is ready for use.
Another interesting part of the British Library was a feature called the King's Tower. It was a large glass case in the middle of the library. It contains books that were owned by George III and given to the library by George IV. He stipulated that the books had to be seen and accessed by the public. Although patron's need special permission, the books are available to use for research. The glass in the case is lined with a special fireproof gel. In the event of a fire, the gel would burn for eight hours, giving the books time to be rescued.
A view of a reading room and the King's Tower.
My favorite part of the tour was the treasures room. Here, they had some of their most valuable and interesting items on display. For example, we saw the Magna Carta, Jane Austen's writing desk, and some drawings by Da Vinci. However, my favorite item on display was Elizabeth I's prayer book! This was one of the best tours yet. I had never toured a library of this scale, and it was interesting to see some of the behind the scenes work that goes on.