12 July, 2007

The British Library

Today we visited the British Library, which is comparable to but smaller than our Library of Congress. The library itself employs 2,300 people and operates on a budget of £12 million per year. The library's main functions are to acquire and keep the national bibliographic output and to make that bibliographic archive available to the people. The British Library used to be housed in the British Museum. A new building was designed nearby in 1963 and was opened to the public by the Queen in 1998. Of the 174 million items in the British Library's total collection, 34 million are housed at that particular site.

I was impressed to find out how efficiently and expediently readers' requests are handled in a library of that size and caliber. Requests for a library pass are handled within twenty minutes of a person entering the queue 100% of the time. After the patron's request for an item is made, the target time for getting the item to the individual is 70 minutes. Surprisingly, this goal is met about 90% of the time. I loved having the opportunity to go behind the scenes and actually see how this process is accomplished. I would never have guessed that the classification system being utilized by this magnificent library is SIZE of the item, (and I think Melvil Dewey is rolling over in his grave). Attached to each item is a shelf mark that shows employees its location right down to the reading room, floor, quadrant, and shelf.

One of the collections within the library that I was particularly interested in was the National Treasures. It was incredible to actually see the original manuscript of a page of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Other rare items that caught my eye were: the original score to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, The Magna Carta, the first folio of Shakespeare's Complete Works (which I mentioned in my previous blog entry), and Lady Jane Grey's prayer book (complete with a handwritten message she composed just days before her execution). I really felt lucky to have been a part of such a fascinating tour conducted by such a knowledgeable and friendly library employee.