Sunday, July 10, 2011

The British Library

The British Library is a.k.a. the National Library of the UK. There are three areas of acquisition: acquire, keep, make accessible. The library’s common purpose is to provide leadership in the library community. They are required to acquire and maintain the national catalog. The books are kept below ground. The entire book collection covers a total subterranean block. It includes four floors and about thirty-five million books. There are actually four buildings in London that contain the entirety of the books/materials for the British Library. Currently forty percent of the collection is housed at the library, whilst sixty percent is housed in Yorkshire. Essentially, there are about one hundred and eighty-five million titles altogether in the collection. This covers eight to nine miles. Each year the library receives eight thousand books per day, therefore eight miles of shelving a year needs to be added for expansion. The British law dictates that the library keeps everything, no ascension/weeding here folks!

The Founding Fathers of the British Library:

Sir Hans Sloane, physician, traveler, scholar, believed that knowledge should be shared. He is most known for developing choline, an anti-malarial medicine. I remember taking this when I went to French Guyana in 1986. Anyhow, the good doctor left his private library to the nation via the Montagues and Russells, the founding families of the British Museum in 1753. Sloane is also renowned for bringing chocolate from the Americas to Europe. Yum, my savior!

Another notable founding father was Sir Robert Cotton. He left Cambridge in 1510, at the prime age of twenty-two, and amassed the entire countries monastic collection. You see Henry the VIII was cleaning house and church at the time, discarding those monastic treasures. Eventually, Cotton donated ninety percent of his collection to the British Library by means of the British Museum.

The librarian tour guide brought us into a room where there is the automated book retrieval system (ABRS). It is on this machine that books are retrieved from the closed shelves below ground. Because space is at a premium this library stores books according to size, therefore does not use the Dewey Decimal system or Library of Congress Classification System. So on the spine of every book is a location mark. Also there is a two card system used, one is placed in the book retrieved and the other is used as a shelf marker.

Next we went past the Glass Tower of books. It contains the personal collection of King George III. There are sixty thousand items in this collection. He wanted them to all be seen therefore they’re housed behind clear glass panels. Nearby is the biggest book in his collection, the 1660 Dutch atlas named the Klenche Atlas. It is definitely the biggest book that I’ve ever seen, and it, too, is displayed under class.

Other well-known items on display in the British Library are the Codex Sinaiticus (@1,700 years old), the Gutenberg Bible, and the Magna Carta. On the ground floor is a gallery with rotating exhibits. I took in the Science Fiction exhibit. There were a lot of surprises for me. My previous view of the Science Fiction genre was quite narrow, for instance I never would have thought to put Anthony Burgess’ Clockwork Orange in the SciFi genre.

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