To start this day, our class traveled to the King’s Cross station with the famous Platform 9 3/4th. I got to take an individual photo with the baggage cart and owl. There was also a Harry Potter gift shop with many fun items for Harry Potter fans.
After traveling with the class on the tube to the British Library, we split into two groups to begin our tours. The building we toured opened in 1997 after 36 years of construction to act as the libraries’ new home outside of the British Museum. The building became the biggest public building of the century. Prior to the libraries current location, the British Library was housed in the British Museum but quickly ran out of space. By the 1990s the humanities collection was the only part of the library at the museum. The rest were scattered throughout London. The new location at first handled all the collections however the library eventually developed another storage area in Yorkshire where half the collection is currently stored.
Once our tour guide led us through the early history of the building and the reader’s membership room, she brought us to a back sorting room. The room housed one of many machines that transported books throughout the library. There are miles of conveyer belts with boxes for people ordering books from storage. The scanning system brings books to where it needs to go, however no rare books or damaged books are used on the system.
Following the transportation and sorting system, we traveled to the King’s Library. Originally gifted by George the Fourth from his father, George III’s large library collection. However, the gift came with strict rules. The collection had to always be shelved where the public could see the books. Due to the stipulation, the collection is now housed in a six-floor glass tower in the heart of the library. The glass library stores 100,000 volumes from the King’s collection and the Thomas Cranmer collection.
Once viewing the King’s Library, we watched a short film on the library then went to the outside reading room. To finish our tour, we went down to the Treasure Room. This room showcases rare and historical pieces owned by the library. This includes the writing desk of Jane Austen, a letter from Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII to Cardinal Wolsey and the Lindisfarne Gospels. The exhibit also contains a computer system that shows the books on display and every page can be zoomed and read through the computer. The treasure room concluded my trip to the British Library.
After a quick bit to eat, we headed over to the London Library. The library was established in 1841 as a membership research and lending library. Our tour started in the main room and along the staircase with a brief history of the library. Thomas Carlisle founded the library after dissatisfaction with the British Museum Library. He wished to have a library that allowed for research and lending. Even though Carlisle did not have money many of his friends were influential and gave willingly to the library. The library quickly ran out of space and moved to a house at St. James Square. Over the centuries, the library acquired the neighboring buildings and added and remolded to expand the building. In 2004, the library started a long remolding process along with a new arts collection room.
Our tour, next, brought us to the back stacks. These were amazing “classic” stacks with short ceilings, the old book smell and close shelves. Our guide gave use more information about the library and their system. Once a book is in the stacks it is never sold for money. Therefore the library only acquires hardbacks or on very rare occasions paperbacks with a dust jacket. Their electronic catalog only includes those in the collection from 1950 to now. The library uses Primo, a discovery system for online cataloging. The library did not originally seek to collect rare books but some have just been donated or simply because of the age have become rare. The library receives about 8,000 new items each year.
Overall, both libraries were great experiences. The two vastly different libraries each proved valuable lessons on how libraries function both privately and publicly. Whereas the public library, British, does not lend out their books, the membership library, London, does allow members to check out material. Both places provide their patrons with a wealth of materials ranging from a wide variety of topics and genres.