A Tour of The British Library

Did you know you can go on a behind the scenes tour of The British Library? Well, you can and you can book tickets online too, for only £10 pounds each which I think is pretty reasonable.

The British Library

I booked the tickets beforehand to make sure we had a place but being a Tuesday morning there were only six of us on the tour anyway.

We started the tour with a trip outside to see the building and learn some interesting facts.

The British Library

The building was designed in the 1960s by Colin St John Wilson but due to delays and relocations, that design bares little resemblance to what was actually built.

Bust of Colin St John Wilson
Bust of Colin St John Wilson

It was meant to be built near to the British Museum where the library was first kept. In the end that wasn’t possible so it wound up across the city near to St Pancras Station.

The foundation stone was laid in 1982 and the building opened in 1997. The project went wildly over-budget until the government cut off funding at which point it just stopped being built, with unfinished bits left, well, unfinished.

The British Library internal structure
An unfinished bit of the library.

Below the library is the basement which goes down eight storeys and stores most of the libraries books. The film “Alien” was shot there whilst it was being built. We didn’t get to go down there but hopefully, no alien’s got left behind after they finished!

Model of the British Library
The basement of the library.

To store the new books it receives, the library is now having to build new premises in Boston Spa, outside of London. By law, every book published in the UK has to have a copy sent to the library. They receive about 8,000 a day. Even newspapers and magazines have to send copies in – including the pornographic ones!

As far as ‘behind-the-scenes’ goes, we didn’t see too much but our guide did show us how requested books are hand-picked then whizzed around the building. And we got an eagle-eye view of one of the reading rooms.

The British Library reading room
We see you!

We also learnt more about The King’s Library, donated by King George IV after he inherited it from his father. It’s kept in this rather snazzy area in the middle of the main atrium and can only be accessed by about 30 people.

The King's Library
The King’s Library

I also have to mention the gift shop because it’s like heaven for any lover of literature, with souvenir postcards, bags, badges, notebooks, pens etc as well as actual books both fiction and non-fiction.

The British Library gift shopThe British Library gift shop

All the pretty, pretty things. I wanted to jump in them and swim about, but that’s probably frowned upon.

Anyhoo, I know the question you want to ask which is “Wordlander, did you get a notebook?”

Alice in Wonderland notebook

Of course, I did – but more about that in another blog post!

I hope you enjoyed my ‘taster’ of my British Library tour. They only appear to be going on until 30th September this year so if you’re interested get in there quick!

Related reads

5 Inspiring Things to do in London
A Visit to the Charles Dickens Museum, London
9 Things I did on my Holiday

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