British LibraryBritish Library Location London, England, United Kingdom(Boston Spa, Collingwood, Palace of Westminster, Great Russell Street, Euston Road) Established 1973(1753) Collection size 25,000,000 books (150,000,000 total items) Budget £100,000,000Director Lynne Brindley(Chief Executive) Website http://www.bl.uk/
The British Library (BL) is the national library of the United Kingdom. It is based in London and is one of the world's most significant research libraries, holding over 150 million items in all known languages and formats; books, journals, newspapers, magazines, sound and music recordings, patents, databases, maps, stamps, prints, drawings and much more, making it the largest collection in the world. The Library's collections include around 25 million books, along with substantial additional collection of manuscripts and historical items dating back as far as 300 BC.
As a legal deposit library, the BL receives copies of all books produced in the United Kingdom and Ireland, including all foreign books distributed in the UK. It also purchases many items which are only published outside Britain. The British Library adds some 3 million items every year.
- 1 Historical background
- 2 Legal deposit
- 3 Using the Library's Reading Rooms
- 4 Exhibitions
- 5 Business & IP Centre
- 6 Sound Archive
- 7 Newspapers
- 8 Philatelic collections
- 9 Miscellaneous information
- 10 Highlights of the collections
- 11 Threatened cutbacks to services
- 12 References
- 13 See also
- 14 External links
Historical backgroundThe British Library from the concourse
As an independent institution the British Library is young compared with its equivalents in other countries, having been created in 1973 by the British Library Act 1972. Prior to this, the national library was part of the British Museum, which provided the bulk of the holdings of the new library, alongside various smaller organisations which were folded in (such as the British National Bibliography). In 1983, the Library absorbed the National Sound Archive. The core of the Library's historical collections is based on a series of donations and acquisitions from the eighteenth century, known as the 'foundation collections'. These include the books and manuscripts of Sir Robert Cotton, Sir Hans Sloane, Robert Harley and King George III.
For many years its collections were dispersed in various buildings around central London, in places such as Bloomsbury (within the British Museum), Chancery Lane, and Holborn, with the lending library at Boston Spa, West Yorkshire and the newspaper library at Colindale, north-west London. However, since 1997 the main collection has been housed in a single new building on Euston Road next to St. Pancras railway station. The new library was designed specially for the purpose by the architect Colin St. John Wilson. Facing Euston Road is a large piazza that includes pieces of public art, such as large sculptures by Eduardo Paolozzi (a bronze statue based on William Blake's study of Isaac Newton) and Anthony Gormley. It is the largest public building constructed in the United Kingdom in the 20th century. However, post-1800 newspapers are still held at Colindale, and the Document Supply Centre is still in Yorkshire. The Library also has a book storage depot in Woolwich, south-east London.
At the heart of the building is a four-storey glass tower containing the King's Library, with 65,000 printed volumes along with other pamphlets, manuscripts and maps collected by King George III between 1763 and 1820.
Legal depositInterior of the British Library, with the smoked glass wall of the King's Library in the background.
An Act of Parliament in 1911 established the principle of the Legal Deposit, ensuring that the British Library, along with five other libraries in Great Britain and Ireland, is entitled to receive a free copy of every item published in the United Kingdom. The other five libraries are: the Bodleian Library at Oxford; the University Library at Cambridge; the Trinity College Library at Dublin; and the National Libraries of Scotland and Wales. The British Library is the only one that must automatically receive a copy of every item published in the UK; the others are entitled to these items, but must specifically request them from the publisher after learning that they have been or are about to be published, a task done centrally by the Agency for the Legal Deposit Libraries.
Further, under the terms of Irish copyright law (most recently the Copyright and Related Rights Act 2000), the British Library is entitled to automatically receive a free copy of every book published in the Republic of Ireland, alongside the National Library of Ireland, the Trinity College Library at Dublin, the library of the University of Limerick, the library of Dublin City University and the libraries of the four constituent universities of the National University of Ireland. The Bodleian Library, Cambridge University Library, and the National Libraries of Scotland and Wales are also entitled to copies of material published in Ireland, but again must formally make requests.
In 2003 the Ipswich MP Chris Mole introduced a Private Member's Bill, which eventually passed, becoming the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003. This Act extends United Kingdom Legal Deposit requirements to electronic documents, such as CD-ROMs and selected websites. The BL explains its policies on legal deposit here.
Using the Library's Reading Rooms
The Library is open to everyone who has a genuine need to use its collections. However, it is most suited to those wishing to use specialised material that is not always available in public or academic libraries. Anyone with a permanent address who wishes to carry out research can register for a Reader Pass, providing they provide proof of signature and address for security purposes. The Library has come under criticism for admitting undergraduate students (who have access to their own university libraries) to the reading rooms, but the Library says that they have always admitted undergraduates as long as they have a legitimate personal, work-related or academic research purpose.
Catalogue entries can be found on the British Library Integrated Catalogue, which is based on Aleph (a commercial Integrated Library System). Western Manuscripts are indexed and described on MOLCAT and the Digital Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts. The Library's website also offers other specialised catalogues and research services.
According to the website, more than half a million people use the Library's reading rooms every year. The large reading rooms cover hundreds of seats which are often filled with researchers, especially during the Easter and Summer holidays.
ExhibitionsBronze sculpture Newton, after William Blake, 1995, by Eduardo Paolozzi
A number of important works are on display to the general public in a gallery called the Sir John Ritblat Gallery which is open to the public seven days a week at no charge. Some of the treasures visitors can see in the Gallery include the Magna Carta, Captain Cook's journal, Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, Geoffrey Chaucer's 'Canterbury Tales', 'Beowulf', Virginia Woolf's 'Mrs Dalloway', Lewis Carroll's 'Alice's Adventures Under Ground', Jane Austen's 'History of England', Rudyard Kipling's 'Just So Stories, Thomas Malory's 'Le Morte Darthur' (King Arthur), Charles Dickens' 'Nicholas Nickleby'.
The Library also stages temporary free exhibitions on a wide range of subjects.
The current exhibition Breaking The Rules - The Printed Face of the European Avant Garde 1900 - 1937 includes a variety of artistic styles and movements – Cubism, Expressionism, Futurism Dadaism, Suprematism, Constructivism and Surrealism and explores common themes and the creative transformation which took place at the time as well as the continuing impact of the Avant Garde on contemporary culture.
The most recent exhibition, Sacred: Discover What We Share, featuring over 150 holy texts from the religions of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, ran from 27 April-23 September 2007 and drew over 200,000 visitors.
Business & IP Centre
In May 2005, the British Library was awarded £1 million by the London Development Agency to transform two of its reading rooms into the Business & IP Centre. The Centre was opened as a permanent resource in March 2006. It holds arguably the most comprehensive collection of business and intellectual property (IP) in the United Kingdom and is the official library of the UK Intellectual Property Office.
The Business & IP Centre is separated into two distinct areas:
The collection is divided up into four main information areas: market research; company information; trade directories; and journals. It is available for free in hard copy and online via approximately 30 subscription databases. You must have a reader pass to access the collection and the databases.
Patent and intellectual property information
There are over 50 million patent specifications from 40 countries in a collection dating back to 1855. The collection also includes official gazettes on patents, trade marks and Registered Design; Law reports and other material on litigation; and information on copyright. This is available in hard copy and via online databases. You must have a reader pass to access the collection and the databases.
- The provision of a networking area for SMEs to meet and network with other SMEs, find out about the Library's full range of services and get inspiration from success stories about products and services conceived by other centre users.
- Workshops and clinics run by the British Library and its business partners on subjects including: using intellectual property resources to check if ideas are novel, how to protect your ideas & designs, capitalising on market research resources, financing, marketing and selling skills, and pinpointing customers. Some of these workshops have a specific focus on supporting the needs of women, black and Asian minority ethnic groups, and entrepreneurs with disabilities. These are free or charged at a subsidised rate.
- 'Ask an expert' sessions. These are one-to-one advice sessions with notable business figures. Previous experts have been the late Anita Roddick and Tim Campbell.
- Events featuring successful entrepreneurs. Previous events have included ‘Winners – The Rise and Rise of Black British Entrepreneurs’, ‘The Asian Advantage’, ‘Mothers of Invention’, and talks by Anita Roddick. These are available as webcasts.
The British Library Sound Archive holds more than a million discs and 200,000 tapes. The collections come from all over the world and cover the entire range of recorded sound from music, drama and literature to oral history and wildlife sounds, stretching back over more than 100 years. The Sound Archive's online catalogue can be viewed at http://cadensa.bl.uk, and it is updated daily.
It is also possible to listen to recordings from the collection in selected Reading Rooms in the Library through their SoundServer and Listening and Viewing Service, which is based in the Rare Books & Music Reading Room.
Researchers will need a Reader Pass to access these services.
In 2006 the Library launched a new online resource Archival Sound Recordings which makes over 4,200 hours of the Sound Archive's recordings available online for UK higher and further education.
NewspapersBritish Library Newspapers, Colindale
The British Library Newspapers section is based in Colindale in North London. The Library has a more or less complete collection of British and Irish newspapers since 1840, owing in part to legal deposit legislation of 1869 mandating that the Library receive a copy of each edition of a newspaper. London editions of national daily and Sunday newspapers are complete back to 1801. In total the collection consists of 660,000 bound volumes and 370,000 reels of microfilm containing tens of millions of newspapers with 52,000 titles on 45km of shelves.
A collection of particular interest is the Thomason Tracts, containing 7,200 seventeenth century newspapers, and the Burney Collection featuring newspapers from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The Thomason Tracts and Burney collections are held at St Pancras, and are available in facsimile.
The section also has extensive records of non-British newspapers in languages that use the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets. The collection is less substantial for languages of the Middle East and the rest of Asia, though some holdings of these are held at the main library in St. Pancras.
Philatelic collectionsThe entrance gate and its own shadow. The gate was designed by Lida and David Kindersley.
The British Library Philatelic Collections are the National Philatelic Collections of the United Kingdom. The Collections were established in 1891 with the donation of the Tapling Collection, they steadily developed and now comprise over twenty five major collections and a number of smaller ones, encompassing a wide-range of disciplines. The collections include postage and revenue stamps, postal stationery, essays, proofs, covers and entries, 'cinderella stamp' material, specimen issues, airmails, some postal history materials, official and private posts, etc., for almost all countries and periods.
An extensive display of material from the collections is on exhibit and is probably the best permanent display of diverse classic stamps and philatelic material in the world. Approximately 80,000 items on 6,000 sheets may be viewed in 1,000 display frames; 2,400 sheets are from the Tapling Collection. All other material, which covers the whole world, is available to students and researchers by appointment.
As well as these extensive collections, the subject literature is very actively acquired, and makes the British Library one of the world's prime philatelic research centres.
The Library also holds the Oriental and India Office Collections (OIOC), now called APAC (Asia, Pacific & Africa Collections) which contain the collections of the India Office Library and Records, and materials in the languages of Asia and of north and north-east Africa.
In the British Library's Digital library project collections can be toured online and the virtual pages of Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks and other great works can be turned electronically. The British Library's secure electronic delivery service, started in 2003 at a cost of 6 million pounds, brings access to more than one hundred million items (including 280,000 journal titles, 50 million patents, 5 million reports, 476,000 U.S. dissertations and 433,000 conference proceedings) for researchers and library patrons worldwide which were previously unavailable outside the Library due to copyright restrictions.
The use of the Library's web catalogue also continues to increase. In 2003 more than 9.7 million searches were conducted.
The Guinness Book of World Records currently lists the American Library of Congress as the "World's Largest Library". However, this is based on the shelf space the collection occupies; the Library of Congress states that its collection fills about 530 miles (850 km), while the British Library reports about 388 miles (625 km) of shelves. On the other hand, the Library of Congress holds about 130 million items with 29 million books, as against approximately 150 million items with 25 million books for the British Library.
Paradoxymoron, by Patrick Hughes is on show in the basement.
Highlights of the collections
- The Stein collection from Central Asia.
- The Diamond Sutra, printed in 868 during the Tang Dynasty, claimed to be the world's oldest dated printed book
- The Lindisfarne Gospels
- Two Gutenberg Bibles
- Two 1215 copies of Magna Carta
- Papyrus Egerton 2, the Egerton Gospel
- The only surviving manuscript copy of the poem Beowulf
- 347 leaves of the Codex Sinaiticus
- The Codex Arundel one of Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks.
- Working manuscripts by J.S. Bach, W.A. Mozart, Arthur Sullivan, Gustav Mahler and Benjamin Britten.
- My Ladye Nevells Booke of Virginal Musick by William Byrd, one of the two surviving collections of 16th century music for the virginal.
Threatened cutbacks to services
In February 2007 it was announced that threatened Treasury cuts to the British Library budget may necessitate cutbacks in services and facilities. These would include reducing the reading room opening hours, introducing charges for researchers and the closure of the public exhibitions, schools learning programmes and the national newspaper archive in Colindale. There is considerable public resistance to this, especially from academics and students, and several thousand names have been subscribed to a petition to the government.
- ^ ALA | American Libraries
- ^ Encyclopædia Britannica Article: British Library
- ^ A.N. Wilson, Evening Standard; Tristram Hunt, Guardian.
- ^ Guiness World Records: Amazing Feats: Big Stuff: Library: Largest library
- ^ a b Welcome Message from the Librarian of Congress
- ^ The British Library: About us: Did you know?
- ^ Beowulf: sole surviving manuscript. The British Library. Retrieved on 2008-04-17.
- ^ British Library petition on the 10 Downing Street e-petitions site
- Philatelic collections. Retrieved on April 4, 2005.
- Sussex, John (editor) (1990). Stamp World London 90, souvenir handbook. Stamp World Exhibitions. ISBN 0-9515891-0-5.
- Read or Die (OAV).
See alsoWikimedia Commons has media related to: British Library
- National Sound Archive
- British literature
- British Museum Reading Room
- Incunabula Short Title Catalogue
- Library of Congress Digital Library project
- List of digital library projects
- National Archives
- National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program
- National Library of Scotland
- National Library of Wales
- National Preservation Office
- Theatre Archive Project
- The British Library homepage
- The British Library Catalogue
- The King's Library contained within The British Library
- The 'Bibliotheca Universalis' homepage
- The World's Earliest Dated Printed Book
- Turning the Pages, digitizations of a few important books, with explanations (Macromedia Shockwave format)
- The British Library Act, 1972
- The Business & IP Centre homepage
- Blog on entrepreneurship, innovation and business information by Neil Infield, Business & Ip Centre Manager at the British Library
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