The British Library
I got my Reader Pass to the British Library the other day. I am now in the same distinguished company as Sun Yat-sen, Karl Marx, Mahatma Gandhi, Bram Stoker, Virginia Woolf, Mark Twain and John Lennon, to name but a few. Lenin, using the name Jacob Richter,was also a Reader.
The Library is open to everyone who has a genuine need to use its collections. Anyone with a permanent address in the UK who wishes to carry out research can apply for a Reader Pass; they are required to provide proof of signature and address. Amazingly, the Pass is free
Historically, only those wishing to use specialised material unavailable in other public or academic libraries would be given a Reader Pass. The Library has been criticised for admitting numbers of undergraduate students, who have access to their own university libraries, to the reading rooms. The Library replied that it has always admitted undergraduates as long as they have a legitimate personal, work-related or academic research purpose. Three cheers for the Library!
I’m using it to research the history of my side of the family in British India, but it is the second largest library in the world behind the US Library of Congress, so you can research pretty much anything you need. Some highlights on what’s available are:
- over 14 million books
- Its Online Gallery gives access to 30,000 images from various medieval books, together with a handful of exhibition-style items in a proprietary format, such as the Lindisfarne Gospels
- The online catalogue contains nearly 57 million records and may be used to search, view and order items from the collections or search the contents of the Library’s website. The Library’s electronic collections include over 40,000 ejournals, 800 databases and other electronic resources
- A number of books and manuscripts are on display to the general public in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery which is open seven days a week at no charge. Some of the manuscripts in the exhibition include Beowulf, a Gutenberg Bible, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Dickens’ Nicholas Nickelby and a room devoted solely to Magna Carta
- An almost complete collection of British and Irish newspapers since 1840. This is partly because of the legal deposit legislation of 1869, which required newspapers to supply a copy of each edition of a newspaper to the library. London editions of national daily and Sunday newspapers are complete back to 1801
The Library moved to a new location just off the Euston Road in June 1998. While lacking the grandeur of the old Library in the British Museum, it is a quite magnificent building in its own right and well worth a visit.
You can find out more here