Sunday, July 18, 2010

The British Library - July 8

On July 8th, we visited the British Library as a class. Being one of the main copyright deposit libraries in the UK and Ireland, the facility is truly massive. The current collection is comprised of approximately 175 million items and grows at a rate of 8,000 new items each day! The collection is housed 75 feet underground in a climate controlled structure along 800-900 miles of linear shelving. This state-of-the-art building was completed in 1997 and it's main objective is the preservation of the book. The stacks are kept at 17 degrees Celsius and 50% humidity.

Our guide today was the delightful manager of the front house team, Kevin Mehmet. Mr. Mehmet let us in on a few interesting tidbits of Library trivia, such as the reason the building resembles a ship. (Apparently, the chief architect, Sir Colin St. John Wilson, never made it to the rank of captain in the Royal Navy. Since he didn't have his own ship in the Navy, he built one.) Below is a model of the building that shows the underground facilities.

Being a reference library, and not a lending library, the stacks are closed to patrons. Patrons must submit a request and the Automated Book Retrieval System (ABRS) generates 2 barcoded slips. An employee retrieves the book from the stacks (that are arranged by size), inserts one of the slips in the cover of the book, scans the slip, places the book in a barcoded bin, scans that, and the complex maze of conveyors guides the book to the correct dispatch room. There are over 1.25 miles of conveyor tracks with 22,00 different possible routes.

Also housed in the Library is an extensive exhibit space for a permanent exhibit of some of the Library's notable holdings, such as the original "Alice in Wonderland" and the "Codex Sinaiticus." There is also space for temporary exhibits, such as "Magnificent Maps" which was such a treat to explore.

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