British Library

Part 1: The British Library

Welcome to the British Library…. a bibliophile’s dream!

British Library Sign


Today we toured the British Library, which is the National Library of the UK, similar to the Library of Congress in the US. As such, the British Library (BL as I may refer to it from now on), has 3 goals:

1. *Collect all published output of the United Kingdom – Around 8,000 books are published per day in the UK, and the BL has to get them all! Yes, even the trashy romance novels…

*The reasoning behind this is that the BL is a legal deposit library; there are 6 in the UK and Ireland: the BL, National Library of Scotland, National Library of Wales, the Bodleian, and the Trinity College Library in Dublin.

2. Keep and maintain this collection

3. Make the collection available to the public

In addition, the BL provides leadership for the UK library community (again, similar to the Library of Congress, which has established a cataloguing system, subject headings, etc.). Before the library opened, the British Museum (which we’ll visit next Thursday), performed library duties for the nation. The library building opened in 1997 and took 36(!) years to build; previously, books had been deteriorating at a rapid rate, which tends to happen when they are composed of paper materials like wood pulp. As such, it is a priority of the library to ensure that all materials are properly preserved, which guarantees longevity of the life of the item. Books are stored beneath the main BL building, in the largest underground depository in Europe (approximately 35 million books!). Underground stacks are kept at a temperature of around 62 degrees Fahrenheit with 50% humidity, to further delay the inevitable decomposition process of books/papers/manuscripts. The remainder of the collection (200 million books!!) is stored out of the city in Wilkshire. Because of this, it takes about 48 hours to retrieve a book from the off-campus site. The in-house retrieval system is awesome, by the way! We had a demonstration, and it’s both so simple and complex… my mind was blown.


British Library Book Bench

(L to R)
Laura Douglass, Jessica, me, and Jade on the British Library Book Bench

Now on to the favorite part of our tour… the Treasure Room! Believe it or not, that’s actually what this room is called. You’ll shortly see why. Sadly, no photographs are allowed to be taken in this room, but I can’t be too upset – it’s for preservation reasons after all. Here’s a run-down of my favorites:

– Beatles memorabilia, aka lyrics written by them on scrap paper, etc.

– a book that belonged to Elizabeth I (my favorite monarch!)

– ***A GUTENBERG BIBLE*** (Sorry for the excitement everyone, but I actually teared up when I saw this)

– The Magna Carta – enough said

– countless religious texts spanning many centuries, religions, countries, etc. (The Lotus Sutra, Codex Sinaiticus, a 9th century Qur’an)

– works of Michelangelo and Da Vinci

– Shakespeare’s First Folio

– many classic authors/works of literature – a Beowulf manuscript,  Jane Austen’s writing desk, and works by Dickens, Charlotte Bronte, Oscar Wilde, William Blake, Thomas Hardy

I could write about this room for days, but I’ll stop. Here, I also must pause to thank my Special Collections professor last semester, who taught us the importance of museum/gallery exhibit best practices. These include looking at lighting, space between cases, font size of item labels, etc. etc. I have found myself looking at all of these components in the libraries we’ve visited, and was not at all surprised to find that the BL was excellent at following these guidelines, which simply allow all patrons access to materials. A good example: in the Treasure Room, each section of cases/displays had a book with Large Print Display Labels. It has been stressed countless times to us in library school that one of our primary goals is to allow everyone equal access to information. That mantra has really struck me, and so it makes me proud to see places, like the BL, following through with this goal.

The British Library was everything I hoped for and more – our tour guide was fantastic, we had the opportunity to see some “behind the scenes” portions of the library, and I feel as though I have a solid grasp of how the library is structured and how it operates. I am certain I will return to the BL before my time is up in the UK…

 Part 2: Afternoon and Evening Adventures

Next, the girls and I made the trek to South Kensington to visit the Royal Geographical Society (RGS). For one of our classes this summer, we were required to write two book reviews before our trip overseas. One of the books I read was The Lost City of Z, written by David Grann, which I highly recommend! It’s about Percy Fawcett, a British explorer (and member of the RGS), who was infamous for his treks into the uncharted Amazon jungle in search for El Dorado, or “Z.” Sadly, Percy and his son Jack disappeared in 1921, in what would be their final expedition. At any rate, I decided that I must visit the RGS after reading this book! Unfortunately, the facilities are basically off-limits unless you’re a member of the Society, which I am decidedly not. However, luckily for me, they had an on-going exhibit that was open to public and featured award-winning Environmentalist Photographer photos of the year. The photos were moving, haunting, and inspiring, and highlighted many on-going problems in the world today – pollution, deforestation, global warming, etc. Though I left feeling a bit dejected, I am grateful that I had the opportunity to view this wonderful exhibit.

Me in front of the Royal Geographical Society

Outside the RGS!

After these two stops, you might think my day was over, but we were just getting started! Jade graciously traveled to Russell Square with me (my old stomping grounds!) and listened to me babble on about this store and that pub and that park over there…. thanks friend! We even stopped by my old “home,” which is in fact the Royal National Hotel. Everything was the pretty much the same, which was great for me, and made my trip down memory lane a pleasant experience!

Royal National Hotel

My home circa January 2007

Unfortunately, as the day went on, I started feeling sicker… and sicker… and sicker. You know, the very sore throat, some coughing, some congestion… but that in no way deterred me from attending the BEST.PARTY.EVER. with Laura Douglass that night! We bought tickets to Hot Dub Time Machine with DJ Tom Loud and I have to say, it was indeed the best dance party I have ever attended! Basically, he starts back in 1954 and plays at least 1 song from every year until now… so essentially this event is a 2+ hour long dance party. The best part is the DJ talked to us beforehand, thought it was the coolest thing that we were from South Carolina, and gave us multiple shoutouts during his show! So that was our way to start the weekend and our 4th of July celebration early, and it was a great success. Thanks, DJ Tom Loud!

Hot Dub Time Machine

Laura Douglass and I with DJ Tom Loud!

I hope that everyone has a SAFE and FUN 4th of July weekend! We have some good things planned, so I’ll do a weekend post in a few days.

– Taylor