Wednesday, September 1, 2010

British Library

The British Library is one of the premier libraries in the United Kingdom, but interestingly enough, from 1857 to 1998 was located in the British Museum. However, the collection had to be moved due to lack of adequate storage space and improper conditions for materials. As one of the UK's repository libraries, they collect a copy of everything published and must accept them, which accounts for their 200 million item collection, with 8,000 new items arriving every day. For example, IKEA advertisements are filed under Economic History. As such, the main purpose of the British Library is to collect items, preserve individual libraries in their collection (e.g. Kings Library, donated by George II and III) and note important events in the national biography, not provide information to the public. In fact, a "Keeper of the Books" named Anthony Panizzi sued publishers to insure that the library received the best copies of books published in the UK. This is not to say that that the public cannot access these materials, but they must have authorized passes for entry and a proven need for the information within the British Library.

The classification of the library is rather unique in that items are sorted by size rather than subject. In addition, the Humanities section deals with materials after 1850, while Rare Materials deals with pre-1850 materials. They also have a stamp collection totaling 8 million, which was established in 1891, as well as the King's Library. The four founders of the library are Joseph Banks (a botanist who traveled with Captain Cook), Robert Cotton (collected Parliamentary papers, the Magna Carta and the Gutenburg Bible), Thomas Orenville (collected classical manuscript, Shakespeare's 1st foglio) and Hans Sloan (physician to Charles II, founder of Cadbury Chocolate.)

For such a venerable institution, they are rather behind in terms of preservation and conservation. In fact, they have a 200 year backlog of materials, at a cost of 150 pounds a book. As such, the library uses student labor; nice to see that some things are the same the world over.

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