Thursday, July 8, 2010

The British Library

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the biggest in the world with its collections housing approximately 200 million items. The only other national libraries that can be in the same league as the British Library in size are: Library of Congress, Russian State Library, and the Bibliotheque nationale de Fance. Since their collecting policy is 1 copy of everything, the collection grows by about 8000 items a day. Before the library became its own entity, they were a part of the British Museum. There are things in their collection that seem out of place like the petri dish of Sir Alexander Fleming. The library's collection started with 4 large private collecion that were donated. These collections belonged to Sir Robert Cotton, Sir Joesph Banks, Thomas Grandfield, and Sir Han Sloan. Sloan's collection founded the British Museum and was originally housed in the Englightment exhibit room. You can still see the bookshelves that are now displaying artifacts there. The architect of the building, Sandy Wilson, designed the building in the shape of an ocean liner. He also made sure that art was also incorporated into the building and had commissioned pieces to be made like the Newton monument in the plaza outside. Underneath the plaza and the building lies about 8 stories of storage for half of the collection. There is also a blast freeze facility on the grounds for diasters.  Getting books and manuscripts up from the vaults is an amazing barcode automated system. There are 33,000 possible routes the system can route to get things to the right place. Rare books and manuscripts are handled more differently, the human delivery system. Security is the highest priority for the British Library.  The reader cards are only issued with full identification and recommendation along with proof of need.  This is taken very seriously. In the middle of the library, is King George III's library. His collection is part of the working research library and is 6 floors high.

At the British Library, they have their treasures room of illuminated codexes, bibles and a room for the Magna Carta. There was the Beauwolf manuscript and Alice in Wonderland books. Below the treasure room was an exhibit of maps. The maps were from all over the world and showed how they viewed the other countries in relation to themselves. That was an amazing exhibit to see. Many of these maps were very old yet they have retained most of their original colors

Photo courtesy of the British Library.

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