I only visited the old British Library, when it was at the British Museum in Bloomsbury, once. When the plan to move to a new building St Pancras was mooted in the late 1970s, I was a student at Goldsmiths’ College, University of London. I saw the plans of the architect, Colin St John Wilson, and it was a case of instant dislike: all that red brick. Brutalist architecture, not my favourite. But I have an inbuilt love of all libraries.Now the building has mellowed and so have I. Now that I’ve been there, worked there, spent many days there all day, I have fallen in love with it. The quiet of the reading rooms [my favourite is Humanities One], the excellence of its systems, the large workstations… The British Museum’s Department of Printed Books was founded in 1753. From its inception it had the privilege of legal deposit, giving it the entitlement to a copy of most items printed in the UK: books, periodicals, newspapers, maps and printed music. Space was always a factor, with the storage of newspapers being moved early in the 20th century to the British Library Newspapers at Colindale. The building survived bombs dropped by the Luftwaffe which destroyed bookstacks, and needed some rebuilding after 1945. The space problem continued until the move to St Pancras in 1998.
One thing the building does really well is its public exhibitions of documents. From the Magna Carta to Shakespeare’s First Folio and John Lennon’s lyrics to ‘Strawberry Fields Forever,’ the Library exhibits documents of national importance, free to view for anyone who walks in off the street.
I do have one gripe. Because of the free wi-fi, the general hall and café can be packed with businessmen having meetings and passers-by checking their e-mails. I am all for public access buildings, but it gets really irritating when you can’t find a table at which to sit and eat your sandwich.
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
My favourite library… @britishlibrary because I love the reading rooms http://wp.me/p5gEM4-lm via @SandraDanby