This summer the British Library is offering a special exhibit on the Magna Carta. Attending the exhibit was not apart of our required course but an optional visit. Since I LOVE, medieval English history, I had to attend the event. The exhibit started off with historical documents and artifacts leading up to the signing of the paper. Following information on King John and the Barons who pushed for the document, the exhibit moved onto the changes made to the Magna Carta over the subsequent centuries. Then the exhibit showed how the document influenced other governmental pieces such as the Declaration of Independence. The library obtained from the Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson’s personal copy of the Declaration of Independence and the state of Delaware’s copy of the Bill of Rights. Nowhere in the exhibit were there security guides except next to these documents. Interesting that the two copies of the Magna Carta had no security yet the Library of Congress had the borrowed American documents on guard. In general, the exhibit was very interesting and included a lot of information spanning a wide range of time.
Following the optional trip to the British Library, our class meet at King’s College Maughan Library and Special Collections. Like many other of our tours, King’s College divided our class into two groups to better move through the libraries. My group began with the history of the building and library. The doors to the new library opened in 2001, however, the building had been around since the 19th century. The building originally housed the National Archives but like many other buildings, became too small. The archives moved in the 1980s and left the building vacant until King’s College purchased the location for one of their libraries.
We entered the library through the staff entrance and were shown a corridor with what used to be small rooms filled with archives. Each room has been remolded inside for staff use but the original case iron doors hang next to the door entrances. These doors and the small rooms were designed to help prevent the spread of fire. A single room at the end of the corridor has been maintained in the original design with the solid steal and sleet shelving and big windows. The architecture did a good job at converting the building combining a mix of old and new. Not just in the corridor but throughout the building. There remain red titles along many walls and cast iron staircases with large windows. There have been some walls dry walled, painted or removed for more space and lighting.
The functioning academic library contains a reference area, meeting rooms, laptop rentals and three different student rooms. One of these rooms is the Round Reading Room. The room modeled after the British Library reading room originally at the British Museum. There are additionally smaller areas of studying on the second floor. To end this portion of the tour, we moved to the Weston Room. The Weston room is the oldest part of the building with a structure they’re dating back to the 13th century. The building used to house documents from the courts and at one point the structure acted as a chapel. Presently, this part of the library houses the exhibition gallery.
The second part of the tour took my group over to the special collections of the library. The collections contain 180,000 printed items with strengths in theology, science, medicine, exploration, literature, history and travel. The special collections librarians showed us a few of their more prized items. This included a copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle, a history up to 1493. A copy of the 1522 Halberstadt Bible with hand colored illustrations. We were also shown some American related items. The Charters of the Providence of Pennsylvania signed by Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. Additionally, we were shown the special medical collection. This includes items of sciences, psychology and medicine. The earliest items come from the 15th century regarding natural sciences and plants but mostly the items come from the 18th and 19th century. The collection includes a copy of Andrew Jenner’s book on smallpox with his signature and a copy of Culpepper’s Medicine with notes inside the book from the original owner.