Zach Mahone ’15 – The British Library was one of the newer buildings that we visited on our tour of London, however its roots are dated back to 1760. The British Library is actually a collection of older libraries that were assembled and finally opened in 1998. The Libraries that make up the British Library are the library department of the British Museum, the National Central Library, the National Lending Library for Science and Technology, and a few others. The idea for a central library started to form after WWII when shelving was severely limited due to the destruction of the Blitz. The British government recognized a need for more shelving but it wasn’t until 1971 that the process of creating the British Library began. In 1972 the British Library Act was passed but due to complications with a building site completion of the library was pushed back to 1998.
The British Library contains 14 million books and 150 million items stretched out over 180 miles of shelving. As our class entered the library our group of 20 was completely dwarfed by the massive library. Needless to say we did not see all of the library and we instead decided to spend most of our time in just one section. The section that we decided to visit was the more “classical” section of the library. This section was especially relevant to our Common Law class because it housed the Magna Carta. While the Magna Carta section was amazing, I was most affected by things like the first English copy of the bible and edited copies of sheet music by composers like Bach. It was interesting to see all the scribbles and cross outs of Bach’s original sheet music and the color and gilding on the early bibles were great. With all these great books on display it was a bit of disappointment that I couldn’t touch the pages and read through them, but for many of these books and articles human contact would be destructive.
The British Library was a great stop on our tour across London and if you are ever in the area I highly recommend stopping in. You could see anything from the first copy of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland all the way to the Magna Carta.