British Library

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British Library Ossulston St entrance, with distinctive red logo.

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. The Library's collections include around 25 million books,<ref>Encyclopædia Britannica Article: British Library</ref> along with substantial additional collection of manuscripts and historical items dating back as far as 300 BC. As of March 2004 the Library held 11.2 million monographs and received more than 41,500 regular serials. As a legal deposit library, the BL receives copies of all books produced in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, including all foreign books distributed in the UK. It also purchases many items which are only printed abroad. The British Library adds some 3 million items every year.


[edit] Historical background

Bronze sculpture Newton, after William Blake, 1995, by Eduardo Paolozzi

As an institution the British Library is young compared with equivalent institutions 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.

For many years its collections were dispersed in various buildings around central London, in places such as Bloomsbury (right next to the British Museum), Chancery Lane, and Holborn, with the lending library at Boston Spa, 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 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, newspapers are still held at Colindale and there is also a collection at the Boston Spa site.

At the heart of the building is a three-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. The tower was designed as a silent tribute to the elegance of Yale University's Beinecke Library.

[edit] Access to the collections

Interior of the British Library, with the smoked glass wall of the King's Library in the background.

A number of important works are on display to the general public in a gallery called "Sir John Ritblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library" which is open to the public seven days a week at no charge. The Library also stages temporary exhibitions on a wide range of subjects which can be illuminated by the items in its collection - which is almost anything, not just literature. Recent exhibitions include Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Benjamin Franklin (2006).

Other items can be accessed in the reading rooms. In the past the Library emphasised its role as a "library of last resort" for people who needed access to deep and specialised collections which they could not find anywhere else. Nowadays it adopts a more welcoming approach and emphasises on its website that anyone who wishes to carry out research should be granted a reader's pass, providing they furnish the necessary identification 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. 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 filled with researchers every day.

[edit] Legal deposit

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 and the Republic of Ireland. The other five libraries are: the Bodleian Library at Oxford; the University Library at Cambridge; Trinity College Library in Dublin; and the National Libraries of Scotland and Wales. The British Library is the only one that is entitled to receive a copy of everything within one month of publication; the other five have to wait for up to one year.

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 the Legal Deposit requirements to electronic documents such as CD-ROMs and selected websites. The BL explains its policies on legal deposit here. As with the Library of Congress in the United States, the BL has retained copies of every publication in the English language which it deemed significant over the last 100 years.

[edit] Newspapers

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.

[edit] Miscellaneous information

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.

The British Library participates in a project called 'Bibliotheca Universalis' which aims at publishing major works on the web. 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".<ref>Guiness World Records: Amazing Feats: Big Stuff: Library: Largest library</ref> 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),<ref>Welcome Message from the Librarian of Congress</ref> while the British Library reports about 388 miles (625 km) of shelves.<ref>The British Library: About us: Did you know?</ref> On the other hand, the Library of Congress holds about 130 million items with 29 million books,<ref>Welcome Message from the Librarian of Congress</ref> as against approximately 150 million items with 25 million books for the British Library.

[edit] Highlights of the collections

[edit] Philatelic collections

Image:British Library Gate Shadow.jpg
The 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.

[edit] References


[edit] See also

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