The new British Library at St. Pancras, London, is the only major public building to be built in Great Britain in the twentieth century. No other project, since the building of St. Paul’s Cathedral, over 400 years ago, took so long to construct or was surrounded by so much controversy. Designed by Professor Sir Colin St. John Wilson, and opened in 1998, the Library is now hailed as a great triumph of design and technology and is a showcase for British art, sculpture, and tapestry as well as a great repository of library materials.

An exhibition, “Building the British Library: An Architectural Exhibition,” featuring original drawings, architectural models, and photographs that chronicle the building from conception through opening, is on display in Pusey Library through May 26. Visitors to the exhibition will see the various beginning schemes for the new library on through to the completion phase of the present design. During the 37 years from the award of the brief to the opening of the last Reading Room, Sir Colin faced changes to the location, size, proportions, and funding for the building. He delivered a fitting tribute to the vision of those who created the British Library, and the scholarly ambitions of those who work in it now. The exhibition will appeal to anyone interested in architecture, libraries, and the modern urban landscape, and is sponsored by the American Trust for the British Library, Harvard College Library, and the Friends of Harvard College Library.

The British Library’s new building at St. Pancras is the Library’s first purpose-built home, and a major resource for Britain and the world. The new building allows the Library to enhance the quality and speed of its services to users, and brings together on one site the majority of the Library’s London collections. It also allows the Library to develop a lively and varied program for the general visitor.

Notable Features of the New Library Building:

  • Eleven new reading areas provide seats for 1,206 readers with 23 linear km of open access shelving.
  • The four basement levels descend nearly 23 meters and contain 300 linear km of various types of shelving.
  • Carefully controlled environmental conditions in the four basement storage areas promise a fourfold increase in life expectancy for the 12 million volumes stored there.
  • At the heart of the building is the King’s Library, the 60,000 volume collection of George III given to the nation by George IV. The collection is housed in a six story, seventeen meter glass-walled tower, fully accessible to staff and visible to all visitors.
  • Three separate but linked automated systems lie at the heart of the improved service for readers. The Online Public Access Catalogue (OPAC) holds more than 12 million catalogue records. The Automated Book Request System verifies availability, prints the request in the storage area, and tracks and communicates its progress.
  • A Mechanical Bookhandling System routes the container to the correct collection point.
  • Three exhibition galleries allow the Library to offer a wide variety of special and permanent exhibitions as well as displays aimed at the younger visitor.
  • An extensive public events program takes place in the Conference Centre with its 255 seat auditorium and smaller meeting rooms and in summer on the Piazza in front of the building.

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world’s greatest libraries. It is funded by Government through the Department of Culture, Media, and Sport. The British Library offers the widest range of services of any national library from the new building at St Pancras and from Boston Spa in Yorkshire. At present there are over 2,300 staff at both locations. The Library’s collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items. It includes books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, newspapers, and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. The Library’s primary users are independent researchers, the academic community, the library and information science sector, and business and industry. Further information about the British Library is available on its Web site (www.bl.uk).


Copyright © 2000 The President and Fellows of Harvard College