The British Library

I have told you in my previous article about some bookish destinations to see in London. I would like to tell you now some more info about them, and who knows, maybe you will actually find them a good idea for a visit.

The British Library is one of the must see destinations for a book lover, at least once in a lifetime. It is the national library of the United Kingdom and the largest national library in the world by number of items catalogued. It is estimated to contain 170–200 million items from many countries.

It was founded through a three-year funding agreement with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Library’s main source of income. It was created on the 1st of July 1973 as a result of the British Library Act in 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 smaller organisations which were folded in (such as the National Central Library, the National Lending Library for Science and Technology and the British National Bibliography). In 1974 functions previously exercised by the Office for Scientific and Technical Information were taken over; in 1982 the India Office Library and Records and the HMSO Binderies became British Library responsibilities. In 1983, the Library absorbed the National Sound Archive, which holds many sound and video recordings, with over a million discs and thousands of tapes.


The library has various sections. In the ground floor there is the philatelic exhibition, where I saw postages…lots of postages. The British Library Philatelic Collections are the National Philatelic Collections of the United Kingdom established in 1891 with the bequest of the Tapling Collection. The Collections, of over eight million items in fifty principal collections include postage and revenue stamps, postal stationary, airmails, artwork, proofs or some postal history materials for Government and Private Posts and for almost all countries and periods. The index panels by each bank of sliding exhibit frames give a brief outline of the content.

The Philatelic Collection of the British Library

The library also has a collection of old books, sacred writings, manuscripts, historical documents that is accessible to the public for free, but unfortunately you are not allowed to take pictures of any kind (I expect this is because the photo light can harm the exhibits they try to keep as safe as possible). They had even a manuscript of Shakespeare in this section, which is actually pretty cool. I also saw some music manuscripts of Purcell, Bach, Mozart and Beethoven (I never saw the manuscripts until now, not even in pictures. I only remember them from my violin classes haha).

They say that the Birtish Library has around 25 million books, among which are manuscripts and historical items, some dating back as far as 300 BC. They also store books, journals, newspapers, magazines, sound and music recordings, patents, databases, maps, stamps, prints, drawings and much more. In the hall with the collection of manuscripts and old books I mentioned above, they had headsets on the edge of the room, where you could listen to music of Beethoven and other classics.

At the first floor, you can find a cafe where you can eat and drink a nice cup of coffee while taking a break from reading.

They often hold various exhibitions (some free, some charged), and some other free events. They also have online exhibitions like The history of writing, Discovering Literature, and British accents and dialects which you can consult every time you are in a mood for some new information.

Also, if you don’t like searching on your own the amazing things they have in store, you can always opt for a guided tour. You can choose between a Building Tour, Treasures Tour, Conservation Studio Tour, Conservation Studio Tour with BSL Interpreter (See how the process of conservation is performed and take a look into the techniques used to take care of the collections. The event is assisted by a sign language interpreter), and Group Visits to Exhibitions.

You can also have acces for free to the reading rooms, but you need to have a prior reading pass before entering the reading room. You can apply for a reading pass online on their site to avoid queing and wasting time in line (I haven’t taken a reading pass, I actually don’t know if you can initiate the process of getting a reading pass directly at the reception, but I guess they should give people this possibility too. But for safety and comfort I recommend the online registration).

There are much more to be said about what can you find inside the British Library, but I think I will stop here and let you discover the rest.

One more thing I would like to say is how to get there. You can use the Journey Planner for a bit of help with the transportation.

The address of the library is 96 Euston Road, London, NW1 2DB.

If you take the train, you can get down at Kings Cross and St Pancras International or Euston.

If you decide for the Underground, you can get down at King’s Cross St. PancrasEuston or Euston Square, which are the closest Underground stations to the library.

The bus can also be used to get there, but I honestly find it more difficult to travel through London by bus. But each one with their own, so if you take the bus, you can use lines 10, 30, 59, 63, 73, 91, 205, 390, 748. If you travel by night (although the library is not open during night time), you can use lines N73, N91 or N205.

Unfortunately they do not have parking available for the library visitors, but they say that there is a metered parking available between 8:30 and 18:00 on Ossulston Street, but with 03 spaces only, so please take this into account if you decide to use the car.

Good news for cyclists, they have covered and uncovered areas for bicycles. They say the best approach from central London is via Tavistock Place and Cartwright Gardens (I used the Underground so I cannot confirm this, but I will trust their word).

For information regarding opening hours, please take a look at the schedule published on their site before planning your visit.

© picnicontheshelf, August 14, 2019


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