Wednesday, 12 September 2007

The British Library

I did a day's work at The British Library in Euston today. I haven't been over the summer and I'd rather forgotten what an amazing place it is. Of course it is designed to be the ultimate library, but beyond the breathtaking range of its collection of books, periodicals, newspapers, sounds, documents and photos, there are so many things about it that please me.

  • The architecture of the building is exactly the kind of architecture I like. Striking and surprising to look at from both the outside and the inside; it is a lovely mixture of clean lines, smooth stone and mezzanines and balconies. I find it very inspiring to work in such a beautiful place.
  • One of the nicest aspects of the architecture is that there are places to sit absolutely everywhere in the library and its courtyards. Not just chairs in the reading rooms, but benches, sofas, armchairs, walls, steps and corners. There will always be somewhere to sit on your own or with others, spread out your bags and belongings and enjoy a coffee or a chat. Or just some peace and quiet to read a good book.
  • There are pieces of art and sculpture scattered around, feeding your senses and inspiring you in a nicely abstract way. My favourite piece is a tromp d'oeuil of some book shelves that move in a very trippy way as you walk past them on your way out of the cloakroom in the basement. This particular piece means I always start my visit with a chuckle.
  • The lighting in the building is very clever. There are no windows, which is a very good thing when you are working and do not want distractions, and instead all the light comes flooding through vast sky lights.
  • The chairs and desks in the reading rooms are the comfiest I have ever known. I like to think that it was someone's job when the place was being built and fitted out, to try out thousands of different chairs and desks and choose the best. Whoever that person was, I think they did a great job.
  • There is always a free exhibition or two to look around when work gets too frustrating. My favourite is The Sir John Ritblat Gallery which holds a permanent exhibition of some of the library's most famous treasures such as the Magna Carta, Leonardo Da Vinci's notebooks and a Shakespeare First Folio. I wander around just saying "wow!" under my breath at everything.
  • The library also has a fantastic website which gives you access to some huge online catalogues and other resources.

Most of this is accessible to everyone, whether or not you have a Reader's pass, so next time you are in London, don't just take my word for it, go and have a look for yourself.


  1. The British Library is one of my favourite places in the world. I have spent many days in it over the last few years and am going back on Saturday after a few months break. It feels like I will visiting an old friend. As well as the many commendable qualities you describe I can recommend the cafe's chunky muesli bars and the cheap propelling pencil leads in the shop. Less prosaically, there is a wonderful picture in the basement by the locker room. It follows you as you go past. Have a look.

  2. Here's the apostrophe I missed after "months"... '

  3. Thank you for the apostrophe!

    I love the cafe as well, but have not tried the muesli bars. Particularly nice booths and seats in there.


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