Did you know… The British Library has 150 million books, and 500 miles of shelving.
Did you know… The British Library receives a free copy of every book published in the United Kingdom – an estimated 3 million works per year.
Did you know… Prince Charles was no big fan of the building, and likened it to
an academy for secret police.
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The British Library ranks alongside the Bibliothèque Nationale as one of Europe’s leading libraries.
The Library started life in 1823, when George IV donated his father’s vast collection of books to Britain. The so-called King’s Library boasted a total of 60,000 works, and was housed in the British Museum.
It was soon decided to hive off the books and house them in a separate building. It moved around London for a considerable period, until a purpose-built home was planned in the 1950s. It’s final location, near Euston, was destined to became the largest public building in the country. It took forty years to build and came in at three times its budget – a whopping £500 million.
It consists of a public piazza, three large galleries, two restaurants and a shop. It has 500 miles of shelving and fourteen floors – six of which are below ground. It also has a sizable basement, making it one of the deepest buildings in the city.
The Library’s catalogue has over 150 million items in 400 languages, and boasts a copy of every work since 1911.
The British Library has books and manuscripts dating back several millennia, from old Buddhist texts like the Diamond Sutra, to the Lindisfarne Gospels of 698 AD.
The John Ritblat Gallery contains the most valued possessions – with ancient religious texts and historical documents, to mariner’s maps and musical manuscripts. Chief of its treasures is the first complete text of the New Testament, the Codex Sinaiticus, and the first book printed in moveable-type – the Gutenberg Bible of 1455.
Also on display is the priceless Magna Carta from 1215 – Britain’s first set of codified laws – and William Shakespeare’s First Folio. This is the only known copy to be written in his own hand.
Original drafts by Jane Austin and Charlotte Brontë sit alongside works by Mozart and Handel. Also included are hand-written love letters from Admiral Nelson to Lady Hamilton, and Gandhi’s political missives.
The Workshop of Words, Sounds and Images focuses on the technology of book-printing throughout the ages. Its varied brief details the history of print, newspaper making, and how sound is recorded. It will take you through the earliest recordings made with wax cylinders, to modern-day CD and DVDs.
You can also listen to some historic recordings, such as Thomas Edison’s first-one ever, made in 1877. Winston Churchill’s speeches are included, as is James Joyce reading from Ulysses.
The British Library also boasts the world’s finest collection of stamps.
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