To quote the British Library's own boast:
"We hold 14 million books, 920,000 journal and newspaper titles, 58 million patents, 3 million sound recordings, and so much more." More than 150 million items in total, shelf space growing by 11km a year!
They have 10,000 pages on their website alone! 10,000!! Including complete scans of some of the most important books in history - the Magna Carta, not one but two Gutenberg Bibles. The website alone is worth many many repeated visits.
I guess it's only to be expected - it is the library of record for the UK. It does contain arguably the world's finest collection of ancient and historically important manuscripts (every from Magna Carta, definitive religious texts from countless religions, through to written-on-the-back-of envelopes lyrics to Beatles songs.) As a legal deposit library, everything published in the UK (and often elsewhere) since the 19th century (and arguably back to the early 17th century) must be provided to the library.
The 'new' (1997) building on Euston Road is mildly unassuming on the outside - a little 'red-brick' for my tastes - but seriously impressive, spacious and open inside. The tone is dominated and set by the King's Library, the collection of King George III, which is encased in glass walls that run from the ground to the top floor. Very impressive, and the perfect motif to let you know you're in a library.
|The King's Library, from one side, with optional students|
|The King's Library from the end|
|The Entrance Hall|
There are exhibits available - what is apparently the world's greatest stamp collection (sorry, philatelic resource) has its highlights casually available to pull out of the wall on glass mounts, as you walk around the back of the King's Library to the (very good) cafe. Here's a blurred picture of some penny blacks and tuppeny blues from, I think, 1840.
The Sir John Ritblat Gallery contains a literally overwhelming display of ancient, rare, famous, meaningful and beautiful manuscripts. Since there are 100s of them, ans they are ancient and each one priceless, it's the only place photography isn't allowed. And I wasn't about to try.
Some minor and trivial observations:
- I couldn't understand the Magna Carta, even with my O-level Latin. I couldn't even really read their writing to be honest. But it's the frickin' Magna Carta!
- The Lindisfarne Gospels are stunning - so beautifully written and illustrated. And 1300 years old!
- A letter from Ada Lovelace to Charles Babbage, thought to be the first ever statement of the nature of a computer program. From 1843. Yes, 1843.
- A collection of Alice in Wonderlands, including one illustrated by Salvador Dali
- Numerous sacred Hindu, Jain, Buddhist and other religious texts.
- Stunningly bound art deco books, Proust being the one that stuck in my mind
- Beatles lyrics to Help, A Hard Day's Night, Yesterday and others. Written on scraps of paper, with crossings out. I'm not a huge Beatles fan, but even so, it's something to see.
Food and Drink: Excellent cafe.
Toilets: Very good.
Transport: It's here. Euston road, so very easy to get to. Kings Cross and St Pancras are next door pretty much.
The wikipedia page is also well worth a look: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Library