The British Library

The British Library is the second largest library in the world. It is a copyright library and therefore has about 24.5 million volumes underground. The library’s underground structures were built around a London tube. About 18 million books come to the surface by a mechanical railway network. The library is two stories and had 600 seats, but most of the books are kept underground and can be retrieved within one hour of ordering them. The library is primarily a research library and cultural center. They are currently looking at ways to develop their public spaces as well as exhibitions. The British Library has 2000 people on staff and are grant funded.

The outside of the library boasts an impressive courtyard that is odored with sculptures, a coffee shop, and a poet’s circle. The limestone on the ground is from France’s Jurassic period, so if you look carefully, you can see fossils in the tiles.

The Library used to be part of the British Museum, but was separated in order to give the collections better conditions. The architect Sir Collins and John Wilson were first commissioned in 1962 to build the new library. One noticeable thing about the architecture of the building is that there are many naval influences from the architect’s background of being on a liner. For example, there are spiral stair cases and circular windows in the doors. The building of the library finally began in 1982 and took 18 years to complete due to funding and management. It was originally meant to be three times bigger, but the government pulled the plug early. There was a lot of bad publicity that went along with the building of the library, so the architects had a very hard time finding work after the library was built. Looking at the library today, it would be difficult to notice that there were any set backs in this massive building’s creation. The building itself is made of 10 million bricks and 60 thousand Welsh slates.


Upon entering the library, one very noticeable thing is the tall, glass room that seems the continue above the library and below the ground. This is the Library of King George III. His legacy was that he wanted his library to be accessible. The imposing tower of books is arranged by size for aesthetic reasons. The collection contains famous and rare books such as Gutenberg’s Bible, and a 1st edition Shakespeare. The collection’s containment is not only thrilling to look at, but its is also practical. They use LED lights in order to keep heat down.

The British Library also contains the second biggest atlas in the world – the 1660 Klencke Atlas. The atlas is bound in leather and has the Rose of England, the Fleur De Lis for France, and the Harp for Ireland. It was a gift for King Charles and some think he may have used it as a coffee table due to circular stains that can be seen on the cover. The Klencke Atlas can be seen in a glass case on the way to the Maps Reading Room.




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