“ The British Library is the national library of the UK and one of the world's greatest libraries. It contains: The national archive of monographs and serials received by legal deposit, rich holdings of books and serials from overseas, the national archive of British and overseas newspapers, western and oriental manuscripts from the beginning of writing to the present, the archives, library, prints, drawings, and photographs assembled by the former India Office, one of the world's finest collections of printed and manuscript music, one of the world's most important collections of printed and manuscript maps, internationally important holdings of philatelic material, one of the world's largest archives of sound recordings and videograms, business information in many forms, the world's largest collection of patent specifications, the world's largest collection of conference proceedings, millions of UK and overseas reports and theses in microform. Address: The British Library at St Pancras, 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB „
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The British Library is one of the only three copyright libraries in the UK, meaning that it houses, along with the Bodleian Library (Oxford) and Cambridge University Library, every book ever published in the UK, and most others too. This means that it really is a great resource, especially if you are a student researching for a paper or even a PHD thesis. There are resources in this library that cannot be seen anywhere else in the world, which means that it is understandable that they have a few ground rules about how you can go about using the library, which can make a visit there a little irritating, but in the end probably worth it.
You cannot really take anything into the library with you, no pens, no drinks or food of any kind, no bags, coats or much else really. If you want to make notes in the library you have to either take a pencil or you can also bring a laptop.
Everything you own has to go into lockers in the basement, and then you can carry anything you need with you in sturdy plastic bags provided.
If you need a book, then most of them aren't on the shelves, you have to order them online which can be a little confusing but you get the hang of it eventually. Most books are available to collect within an hour or so, but some can take up to 48 hours, which can be a pain if the essay you need to write is in sooner than that, which is what happened to me a couple of weeks ago.
Although probably should have come firstly.
Getting a membership card can sometimes be a pain, but as long as you bring two separate forms of ID, one with your signature and one with your address with you, and you have already registered on line, it shouldn't be a problem...it wasn't for me.
- so -
Once all these little hurdles are out of the way, you are free to enjoy one of the most magnificent collections of literature in the world; and it really is pretty impressive. The building is state of the art and they often have lots of exhibitions for you to check out if work is getting you down a bit. Despite the annoyances, it really is worth the effort, since the library itself is one of the quietest and most serene working environments I have been in, nobody dare talk for fear of incurring the wrath of the librarian/security guards that patrol the reading rooms (who will also confiscate any pens they catch you with).
If your a student in London, or anywhere in the UK, you should definitely check out the British Library, It is pretty impressive. However the Cafe is an absolute Rip off! Stay clear!
The British Library is a great place for researchers from all over the world, with rare manuscripts and first editions. It's a truly beautiful building in it's own right with exhibitions occasionally open to the general public. Unfortunatley you have to be a researcher or in search of an item not freely available anywhere else to use it-but it's wonderful if you can.
The British Library archives UK and Irish publications in different media and makes them available to the public. Its collection is based on the former library of the British Museum, and since its inception in 1973 it has acquired several other collections - for example, the Patent Office Library and the British Institute of Recorded Sound. It is one of six legal deposit libraries in the United Kingdom and Ireland, meaning that UK and Irish publishers are obliged to send it a copy of everything they publish. It also holds maps, illustrations and documents. Of special interest is its collection of rare books.
The Library is spread over three sites - the St Pancras reading room, which opened in 1998 when the Library moved from the British Museum; the Colindale newspaper library in north London; and the Boston Spa reading room in Yorkshire, which is also the national centre for inter-library loans. These are reference-only libraries, free to use by anyone over 18 after a simple registration procedure, and by younger researchers by arrangement. Reading room rules are unexceptional - pencils only and clear plastic bags, which are supplied. Unlike the National Archives at Kew, the British Library does not allow you to photograph reference material.
Some items are on open shelves. Others have to be requested. Old-timers tell tales of waiting days for books at the British Museum site, but now you can browse the website catalogue at home and order what you want in advance. Today's reading rooms also provide computer access to specialist databases. Unfortunately, St Pancras often lacks sufficient seats at which to read, as for many students in the surrounding university colleges it is the only quiet space available. If possible, avoid mid-summer. You may be able to save yourself a journey by identifying a title from the website catalogue, then reading it at home on your computer through a free service such as Internet Archive.
For registration details and to browse the catalogue, Google 'British Library'.
When I first joined the British Library, its reading room was located beneath the dome of the British Museum. Ticket holders passed behind a screen into the circular reading room where many of England's great scholars had worked. Atmospheric as it was, the paper-based system was chaotic: if you made an error of one digit on a request slip, or if the staff read it wrongly, the wrong book arrived three hours later. This is a request library: find what you need in the catalogue, or on the computer, put in a request and it will be delivered from the stack anything from 30 minutes to three days later. If you have not seen a book before (if you had, there would be little point in coming here to read it) it may turn out to contain nothing of interest when it arrives. the request system also means that shelf browsing - a good way to discover something new - is out of the question.
This is intended as a library of last resort, for scholars who cannot obtain the material they need elsewhere. The rarest of rare books are here, some of which are known in a single copy, and all can be ordered up if needs be (years ago I ordered A.E. Housman's personal copy of Tennyson's poems just for the pleasure of handling this unique volume). The books have to be collected from the desk and taken back afterwards, usually with some queueing on each occasion.
With computerization, ordering has become simpler and it is possible to order books in advance, days before if necessary, so they are ready for your visit. Order more than you need, as there are always some that fail to arrive: with millions of volumes a mis-shelved book is lost for ever. Many of the books are valuable so there are security checks on the way out. On the whole the staff are helpful, though a few develop an officious manner characteristic of employees of the state.
There is also a manuscript room, with a separate and more stringent application process than the reading room, which is somewhat puzzling because it implies that some readers who are trusted with rare and valuable books will make off with the manuscripts if given a chance. The newspaper library is in a separate building in Colindale.
It is simple to apply for a reader's ticket, but you will be expected to show why you need to use this library; after all, it has only about a thousand seats and serves the whole country. The best approach is to take along a list of the books you need to see. There is little point in joining the British Library to read books that are available through university, professional, or other libraries, as the ordering system is so cumbersome. If I possibly can, I will use another, open shelf, library for my work. Unfortunately the British Library's admission criteria seem to have relaxed considerably in recent years and there are now many undergraduates chatting away, oblivious of the fact that libraries are a workplace for some of us.
There is an excellent gallery of rare books on the ground floor, always worth a visit and filled with books of rare beauty. There are also temporary exhibitions, which can be of great interest, and a good but expensive cafe, where a glass of wine can be had to relax the mind.
The British Library has had quite a transformation in recent years regarding how it engages with the public. This library is of course THE national library and has always been much loved and used by those in research communities but increasingly the Library has focused on reaching members of the public who do not need to consult original and/or rare books and manuscripts for their research. That means people like me and you, meaning the Library is a quality half day out or at least a place to spend a meaningful hour or two if you find yourself on Euston Road.
The permanent galleries which show the highlights of the collection indiciate the sheer scale and importance of the Library's holdings. These are free galleries and providing you can cope with 50 Lux light levels (ie very low, in order to preserve the paper) these quiet contemplative spaces display a staggering array of material from western and non-western cultures. Everything from an original version of the Magna Carta to rare medieval Japanese scrolls and hand-written Beatle's lyrics.
The key thing is you are not left to merely look at the object, the Library works really hard to explain why these things are so important in a non-patronising way. The BL never used to embrace warmly those of us who are not experts but this really is the place to understand what, for example, the Magna Carta was about and why issues about rights and obligations in society are still debated today. If you go into the building as someone who just wants to browse, it really is a comfortable place to spend some time without feeling you are being watched. The unusual striking architecture that opens up into an atrium type space is worth a visit alone.
If you like browsing the web you can look at some 30,000 amazing items in their online galleries- access this interpreted material through the homepage www.bl.ac.uk.
All in all, the BL is now a place that anyone can visit without having to be a scholar. A sophisticated oasis in the depressing cacophony that is Euston Road.
The British Library on Euston Road in London is in my mind one of London's hidden gems and an amazing place to visit.
Don't think what a load of old books! It's so much more than that.
Why? Not the huge collection of books where you can go and research any subject, but the hidden gem that is the Sir John Riblat Gallery, a mouthful for a room that contains original documents from the Magna Carta, the Lindisfarne Gospels, Captain Scott's journal from the ill fated Antarctic expedition to original lyrics of Beatles songs, one in fact written on the back of a first birthday card sent to Julian Lennon and so many more documents, books and musical scores.
The other big thing in it's favour is that it is free to go in.
Somehow the library doesn't seem to advertise this mind boggling exhibition as much as it should and it isn't easy to find once you are inside ( just keep on the left hand side of the building, go past the shop and you will come to it.)
If you have an hour to spare anytime perhaps between trains then please go and take a look. I guarantee you won't be disappointed.
If you're a scientist, working in London who needs to get hold of an older scientific paper from an obscure journal, then the easiest way to get it is to pop along to the British Library. Or is it? The British Library is the UK's national library, it’s funded by the government to be the custodian of every book in print in the United Kingdom, and every issue of every periodical printed here (and many printed abroad). As a potential source of information, it's incomparable. The library has an exceptional collection of books, periodicals, manuscripts, stamps, patents, sound recordings, printed music and maps... but how easy is it to actually get at them? How easy is it to become a reader at the British Library, and even if you are a reader, how easy is it to actually find the information you want? BECOMING A READER The British Library is not a public library, it is a research library, so in order to use the library, you have to become a reader. This is no easy task, as a prospective reader will have to prove that they have "reached a point in their research where no other library can adequately supply all the information required, or who can demonstrate a legitimate need to use items in the collection to further their research." In my case, I was allowed to use the collection, because in the course of my research (doing a PhD in evolutionary genetics), I occasionally needed to get papers from obscure journals, which weren't available elsewhere. To become a reader, you have to take a (usually very brief) interview, to prove that the material you require isn't available elsewhere, or that your studies require the facilities that only a library the size of the British Library can provide. A lot of applicants are refused because their needs can be better served by a specialist library in the area. Applicants have to complete a registration form, and provide proof of identity. If you're a s
tudent, you're best advised to bring along proof of your status and, if possible, a letter from your institution confirming that you need to use the library's facilities. If you're carrying out personal research, you'll need to provide proof that other libraries cannot provide the specific journals and books that you need. READING ROOMS To the west side of the British Library complex are the Humanities reading rooms, and to the east side are the Science and Technology reading rooms. Fundamental to Sir Colin St John Wilson's design is that the lighting is different in the two areas. The Humanities reading rooms have been carefully designed so that sunlight doesn't fall directly onto the books, and the room is illuminated indirectly by light reflected down from the ceiling. In the Science reading rooms it doesn't matter so much if the books are hit by direct sunlight, as they won't sit on the shelf for as long. Periodicals in the Science and Technology reading rooms only sit on the shelf for at most ten years, and less than that if they're foreign-language publications. So, the Science and Technology reading rooms have large banks of windows along their length. All of the reading rooms are also lit by neon tubes, which ensure that the rooms remain adequately lit at all hours of the day. This isn't the only difference between the reading rooms though. The colours are different too – the Science and Technology reading rooms have green leather inlays in the desks, where the Humanities rooms have red. Desks generally have been designed with the documents that will be perused at them in mind. The map room, for example, has large desks, ideal for opening large maps on. Desks in general are nicely designed. Each has its own light and a power outlet for plugging in your laptop. There's also a light on the desk panel, which is illuminated to inform readers that any books that they
39;ve ordered have arrived at the reading room. All of the reading rooms have a small number of carrels: booths available for individuals to study in, without being distracted by the sounds of others. While reading rooms are supposed to be silent, there is inevitably a constant sussurus of whispers, accompanied by the tapping of laptop keyboards. An area of the Humanities reading rooms is given over to desks where use of personal computers is not permitted. SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY READING ROOMS As a postgraduate student studying evolutionary biology, this is inevitably the area of the Library that I use the most. It consists of five separate reading rooms; Science 1 South, which deals with UK and European patents and trademarks; Science 1 North, which deals with foreign patents; Science 2 South, Life Sciences, Medicine and Chemistry; Science 2 North, engineering and social sciences; and Science 3, physical and earth sciences and computing. Of these, it is Science 2 South that I have visited most often. The Science reading rooms consist almost entirely of periodicals, arranged on enormous banks of shelves, the length of the reading rooms. Periodicals supposedly sit on the shelves of the reading rooms for ten years, though in my experience, a few journals are only kept on the shelves for about five or six. Periodicals in languages other than English are only kept on the shelves for about twelve months. If you want periodicals any older than this, as I frequently do, they have to be ordered in from the British Library's collection. Unfortunately, this is where the Library begins to fall down. The science journal collection of the British Library isn't stored on-site, as are Humanities books and periodicals, but over at their off-site storage site in Aldwych. This means that you have to order the periodicals, and wait for them to be delivered. This can take several hours, and unless you order them at the very beginning
of the day, they are unlikely to reach the reading room that same day. It would be useful if you could order the periodicals to be delivered to a specific reading room over the Internet the day before you want to use it from elsewhere. But no, requests can only be made from terminals in the British Library itself, which means making two trips to the Library on consecutive days. Not very helpful. As a test, to see how easy the library is to negotiate, I decided to look up a recent journal that I knew would be on the shelves in the Science reading rooms – the September 2000 issue of the Journal of Evolutionary Biology, which was where my first paper got printed. To find the journal, I used one of the many on-line catalogue terminals (there really are lots of them in the British Library, in all of the reading rooms, which is good) to look up its shelfmark. (P) CH 10 E6, in case you're interested. It was then just a simple matter of going to the periodical section in Science 2 South, walking along the shelves until I came to the one containing CH journals, and then looking on the bottom shelf. Yes, the notation for the periodicals' locations are cumbersome, and you need to sit at the terminal with pen and paper to stand a hope in hell of finding anything, but it's relatively easy to find the information you want, considering the millions of periodicals in the library. The next problem with the Science reading rooms is if you want to photocopy a paper. Photocopying in the Science reading rooms has to be carried out in Science 1 South, near the patents. Now, it's a little known fact that you can't alter the content of a patent when duplicating it, which means that you can't photoreduce them. Unfortunately, since the periodical reading rooms share photocopiers with the patent room, this means that the British Library has disabled the photoreduce feature of the photocopiers. This is annoying if, like me, you
photoreduce when photocopying, so you don't have to do so many copies... and, more importantly, so that it costs less. Which brings me to the next complaint, photocopies in the British Library cost 20p per sheet. What a rip-off, especially when you're photocopying something that you had no choice but to retrieve from the British Library! Of course, if you don't want to do the photocopying yourself, there's always the option of getting the staff to photocopy it for you, for the princely sum of 32p per sheet (for patents), 37p per sheet (for books). HUMANITIES So, today, in the interests of dooyoo opinion-writing, I decided to make my first foray into the Humanities reading rooms. There are five Humanities reading rooms in the British Library; Humanities 1, which holds a wide variety of books; Humanities 2, which holds the National Sound Archives along with more books; the Map Room; the Rare Books and Music Reading Room; and the Oriental and India Office Collections Reading Room. The Humanities reading rooms have considerably fewer bookshelves than do the Science and Technology reading rooms. This is probably the first thing that you notice in comparing the two. This is because the majority of readers in the Humanities reading rooms request very specific items from the (on-site) collection, located in the basement beneath the library. Books are transported up to the reading room, upon request, on conveyor belts, so generally arrive within a few hours of having been ordered. In order to investigate how easy the books are to find in the Humanities reading rooms, I used the on-line catalogue terminals to look up a book on the shelves – a translation of the Domesday Book for Hertfordshire, so that I could look up "(North) Mimms", the nearest town to Potters Bar mentioned in the book. Within a couple of seconds, I had found the shelfmark, HLR 333.322. (The Humanities rooms use the semi-logical De
wey Decimal Classification scheme). The shelfmark was easy enough to track down, and I managed to find the book within minutes. The Humanities rooms seemed busier than the Science reading rooms, in general, and the volume of background noise was a little greater. Also, in the Humanities reading rooms, photocopying must be carried out by Library staff, so visitors would do better to copy out the information they need, rather than using the photocopying service... unless money's not an object, of course! USING THE LIBRARY IN GENERAL Using the library is not as convenient as it could be. For a start, you're not allowed to take coats or bags into the reading room – they have to be left in the cloakroom in the main lobby. If you take your own books into a reading room, be prepared to have them thoroughly examined when you try to leave. The on-line catalogue terminals are easy to use, once you get used to their idiosyncrasies, and instructions are provided so that you can ensure that any books and periodicals you order end up in the right place! Staff throughout the Library are friendly and, in my experience, keen to help you to use it, so if you do have any problems then they're well worth approaching. Unfortunately, they can't hurry along books ordered from off-site locations, or help you pay for exorbitantly-priced photocopying! CONCLUSIONS The British Library is a great resource, containing a lot of information that isn't available anywhere else in the country, if not the world. However, it's nothing like as easy to get into as it really should be. Photocopying is far too expensive, especially considering that there is often no alternative to doing the photocopying in the library itself. Staff are universally friendly and helpful, and getting hold of books that you want is reasonably easy – even if it sometimes takes longer than you'd like. Now, as
a tourist attraction, it's very good... but that's a whole other opinion...
One of my favourite places in London is the British Library located near St Pancreas station. Dating back to 1753, this was previously part of the British museum in Bloomsbury. But because of a lack of space in 1997 it was moved out to a new purpose-built location in North London. Although the old circular reading room (the haunt of the likes of Karl Marx, Freud and many others has now been restored to its 19th century glory and can be visited as part of the Great Court in the British Museum. The library's new red brick building not the most atmospheric place to house the ancient collection although it has the benefit of having a lot more space. It is still the biggest library in the world with over 16 million books, more books than you could ever read on every subject you can think of (and a lot you probably can't). As well as a mind-boggling amount of letters, stamps, official documents and sound archive. Although it's worth remembering that it is a reference library, and none of the material can be loaned out. But there are 17 reading rooms at St Pancreas and the 2000 library staff and trained to deal with difficult research requests. As the website says: "Access to the reading rooms is provided to those who have reached a point in their research where no other library can adequately supply all the information required." It's free to view to main collection (one of the few truly free attractions in London) as well as the temporary exhibitions that are there, like the current one on Armenian Christian art. The British library also has an extensive shop, with mainly historically-themed books for sale. But to help students and researchers the library now has extensive computer system so studying can be done on-line. And the British Library website at www.bl.uk means their extensive catalogue can now be accessed from your computer. Although avoiding the library would mean you missed one of the real treats of London the
rare books collection located in the John Ritbalt library. In this, hushed darkened space you can see priceless treasures such as original Shakespeare plays, the Magna Carta, a Gutenburg Bible, explorers maps from the age when they though the world was flat, the Anglo Saxon chronicles, the first book written in English although I couldn't make out a word of it (obviously English in a very medieval sense. There's also more recent rarities like Beatles lyrics, with John Lennon's incredibly messy handwriting, which makes them almost as difficult to read as the Anglo Saxon chronicles. I didn't even know that such manuscripts even existed in their original forms anymore so to have them located all under one roof and only a tub journey away is too good an opportunity to miss.