|The British Library Piazza. Source: Jack1956 on Wikipedia|
|British Library Foyer|
Our tour, which was delivered by a very knowledgeable and entertaining guide, began in the foyer where we learned about the library's beginnings. The BL originally started out at the British Museum: the famous Round Reading Room is where famous people including Marx used to study. The British Library Act of 1972 enabled the BL to be established in 1973, although materials were dispersed around London and around the country for several years. When deciding upon a location for the eventual library site, there wasn't much choice available: it would have to be within walking distance of the British Museum in Bloomsbury, so that the rarest and most valuable books could be carried there by hand, as they were not permitted to be transported on vehicles. Eventually the site at Euston Road was decided upon: located next to St Pancras Station, it used to be a goods yard.
The Library was designed by Colin St John Wilson, and the building has met with a mixed reception (apparently Prince Charles hates it, but the Queen is a fan). Looked at from the right angle, it resembles a ship. It was made a Grade I listed building earlier this year, so it is now recognised as a landmark of design: however it is not without its problems. Wilson spent so much of the Library budget on expensive marble, containing fossils, to be laid outside on the piazza (meaning that it is extremely slippery in the rain) that there wasn't enough left for decent shelving, resulting in some collapses as the second-hand shelves couldn't bear the huge weight of the books.
It is impressive, however, that most of the books are stored underground: the stacks run several storeys beneath the ground, stopped only by the tube that is even further down. The Fleet River also runs nearby, so that the lowest floor does flood on occasion.
From the foyer we were taken to the Members' Area in which you can register to become a member of the Library. Anyone can register so long as they have the appropriate ID: you don't have to be an academic. Near here, there is a book handling system which delivers books users have ordered to the surface by means of a conveyor belt. Staff collect book requests, remove them from the shelves and send them up to the Library.
|The book handling system|
|The King's Library|
I really loved my tour: I learned a great deal about the British Library that I hadn't known before. Public tours are available and I do recommend signing up.