The British Library

The British Library is, as national libraries go, relatively young. Its roots lie in the report of the National Libraries Committee under the Chairmanship of the late Lord Dainton issued in 1969. This was followed in 1971 by a White Paper recommending the setting up of a national library for the UK (‘the British Library’). In 1972 The British Library Act was passed by Parliament, bringing the Library into operation with effect from 1 July 1973. The history of the Library’s new building is described in The British Library and the St Pancras Building by Sir Anthony Kenny, Chairman of the British Library Board, 1993-1996.

The building at St. Pancras

  • The largest public building constructed in the UK in the 20th century
  • The basements extend to a depth of 24.5 meters
  • A total floor area of over 112,000 sq meters spread over 14 floors – 9 above ground, 5 below
  • 10 million bricks and 180,000 tonnes of concrete were needed to complete the building
  • Awarded grade I listed building status in August 2015
  • We receive a copy of every publication produced in the UK and Ireland
  • The collection includes well over 150 million items, in most known languages
  • 3 million new items are added every year
  • We have manuscripts, maps, newspapers, magazines, prints and drawings, music scores, and patents
  • The Sound Archive keeps sound recordings from 19th-century cylinders to CD, DVD and MD recordings
  • We house 8 million stamps and other philatelic items
  • All this requires over 625 km of shelves, and grows by 12 km every year
  • If you see 5 items each day, it would take you over 80,000 years to see the whole of the collection
  • The world’s earliest dated printed book, the Diamond Sutra, is sometimes on display in our exhibition galleries alongside many other treasures
  • We have on-site space for over 1,200 Readers<
  • Over 16,000 people use the collections each day (on site and online)
  • Online catalogues, information and exhibitions can be found on this website
  • We operate the world’s largest document delivery service providing millions of items a year to customers all over the world

IMG_5522On our way to visit the British Library. Researchers at work on a rainy London day.

Did you know?

  • We receive a copy of every publication produced in the UK and Ireland
  • The collection includes well over 150 million items, in most known languages
  • 3 million new items are added every year
  • We have manuscripts, maps, newspapers, magazines, prints and drawings, music scores, and patents
  • The Sound Archive keeps sound recordings from 19th-century cylinders to CD, DVD and MD recordings
  • We house 8 million stamps and other philatelic items
  • All this requires over 625 km of shelves, and grows by 12 km every year
  • If you see 5 items each day, it would take you over 80,000 years to see the whole of the collection<
  • The world’s earliest dated printed book, the Diamond Sutra, is sometimes on display in our exhibition galleries alongside many other treasures
  • We have on-site space for over 1,200 Readers
  • Over 16,000 people use the collections each day (on site and online)
  • Online catalogues, information and exhibitions can be found on this website
  • We operate the world’s largest document delivery service providing millions of items a year to customers all over the world
    • Material over 3,000 years old (Chinese oracle bones) – and today’s newspapers
    • 310,000 manuscript volumes: from Jane Austen to James Joyce; Handel to the Beatles
    • 60 million patents
    • Over 4 million maps
    • Over 260,000 journal titles

Treasures include:
Magna Carta
Lindisfarne Gospels
Leonardo da Vinci’s Notebook
The Times first edition from 18 March 1788
Beatles manuscripts
The recording of Nelson Mandela’s Rivonia trial speech

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