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The British Library

Home > London > Books and Writing | Free | Libraries | Literary | Places of Interest
by Bryony Harrison (subscribe)
Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from goo.gl/Ta4oAX.
Published October 24th 2017
Read the Original Magna Carta
The British Library
The British Library
The British Library, Euston Road


An institute thirty-seven years in the making, The British Library has the largest collection of texts and digital content in the country. Opening in 1997, it is the youngest building to receive a Grade 1 listed status and is located on Euston Road, merely a two-minute walk from Kings Cross St Pancras Station.

the British Library


The library is like a catacomb for books, which are buried twenty-four metres underground, and pulled up by a conveyor belt when summoned by readers. Entry is free, but there is usually a short queue due to required bag searches.

the British Library


This was my first visit to the Library, and I was impressed by the architecture. Made of ten million Leicestershire red bricks, I thought everything might look a bit mundane with so much of one block colour. On the contrary, it was the unifying factor, creating clean lines and pleasant geometric aesthetics.

the British Library


The courtyard is a series of angles, softened by a circular enclosure. A white slab in the centre represents the sun, while nine rocks sitting atop columns are the planets (it was made in 2002 before Pluto was demoted). My one criticism here is that the rocks are all the same size. This creates symmetry but doesn't reflect the different sizes of the planets.

the British Library, newton, talking statue


From a distance, you can see the mighty statue of Newton, who is bent over his compass calculating all his groundbreaking discoveries. This is one of London's 'talking' statues. To hear the character speak, all you need is a phone with a wifi connection, to scan a barcode provided on the plaque.

Once inside, there is lots to learn and discover:

Exhibitions

The British Library


The British Library holds several temporary exhibitions throughout the year. Currently on show are:

Paid For

Harry Potter: A History of Magic
Until 28th February 2018

the British library, Harry Potter, a history of magic


From folklore to medicine, learn about the real history of magic throughout the world, and how it was implemented int to the Harry Potter books. You can see original drafts and drawings by J.K. Rowling and read through centuries-old texts.

Find out more here.

Free

Listen: 140 Years of Recorded Sound
Until 13th May

The British Library, listen, 140 years of recorded sound


The British Library's sound archive started in 1955. It was compiled, not on 'aesthetic grounds, but based on what would be considered of important historical value. It includes recordings in over forty different formats from all over the world, such as speech, poetry, prose, performance, wildlife, music, environment, and more.

The Library is on a campaign to 'save our sounds' due to the fact that many forms of physical recordings have become outmoded (LPs, VHS, etc), and age can degrade the quality. They are now working to make digital copies of their entire archive.

Visitors can listen to these recordings through headphones. There is a diverse range of material to hear, from the voice of Amelia Earhart to the mating call of a haddock. You can also view early machines such as the gramophone. I found it fairly amusing to listen to a recording which boasted of a 'recording machine [that] only weighs 60lbs and is easily carried.'

Comics and Cartoon Art from the Arab World
Until 29th October

Learn about Arab comics of the 19th century, including political satire and children's comics.

Martin Luther
From 31st October - 25th February 2018

Replacing the comics display will be an exhibit on Martin Luther, celebrating the 500 year anniversary since his 95 Theses, which triggered Germany's Protestant Reformation.

The Eccles Centre for American Studies: A 25th Anniversary Celebration in Portraits
According to the website, this exhibition doesn't end until 31st December 9999, so you have plenty of time.

In an exploration of North American culture, a series of photographs by Ander MacIntyre showcases writers, politicians, and other public figures that have helped shape the country.

Galleries

The British Library


The Philatelic Exhibition

The permanent gallery of stamps can be found in the foyer. Established in 1891, it showcases eighty thousand stamps from all over the world. Categories include postage, revenue, proofs, airmail, stationary, and artwork. They are preserved in panels, which slide in and out of the wall for viewing.

The Sir John Ritblat Gallery Treasures

A permanent gallery displaying beautiful historic texts. The room is divided into sections, including Science, Literature, Music, Historical Documents, Sacred Texts, and Shakespeare. Most of these texts are centuries old, but there are also a few modern pieces, including music by the Beetles, and an ode to Princess Diana after her death.

The most significant document in the gallery is the Magna Carta. Originally thirteen were distributed, but now only four remain, two of which can be found in the British Library. Despite the document's significance, when it was first passed in June 1215, it only remained legally valid for ten weeks after Pope Innocent III made it null and void. When King John died in 1216, it was reinstated by the Regent, William Marshal, in order to protect the then nine-year-old King Henry III. Henry later revised the Magna Carta in 1225, and the final amendments were made by Edward I in 1297.

King's Tower Library

the British Library, the king's tower library


The centrepiece of the Library is the King's Tower Library, a six-storey glass tower storing over 85 thousand books and pamphlets collected by George III. The material dates from 1454-1820, and include a first printing of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and first folio edition of Shakespeare plays.

Reading Rooms

The British Library


The library has eleven reading rooms that can accommodate up to 1200 visitors. To enter these rooms and access physical and digital copies of 200 million resources, you need a Reader's Pass, which you can find out how to do here.

Cafes

the British Library, menu, cafe, restaurant


The Library has no less than eight eating and drinking establishments. For baked treats and sandwiches, The Coffee Shop is the place to go. If you are looking for something more substantial, the King's Library Cafe serves hot bistro style meals. If you just want a drink, they also have The King's Library Coffee bar for artisan tea; The Origin Coffee bar can be found in the Entrance Hall, while Origin Coffee is on Euston Road. Out on the courtyard, you can order pizza at The Rotunda Bar, as well as well as 'on-the-go' snacks at The Last Word. Finally, if you feel like treating yourself, you can get afternoon tea at the Terrace Restaurant on the first floor, from 13.50 per person.
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Why? Vast collection of reading and study material
When: Mon-Thurs: 9.30am-8pm, Fri: 9.30am-6pm, Sat: 9.30am-5pm, Sun: 11am-5pm
Phone: 44 (0)1937 546546
Where: Euston Road, London, NW1 2DB
Cost: Free entry
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