The British Library, as a legal deposit library, receives all book copies which are produced in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Hence, by the number of items cataloged, the British Library is categorized as the largest library throughout the world. The library contains approximately 170-200 million items from various countries.
It is a major research library, which provides lots of items in many languages and in many formats, both digital and print, including books, journals, newspapers, manuscripts, magazines, music/sound recordings, videos, databases, maps, play-scripts, patents, stamps, drawings, and prints.
Overall the BL's collections include over 14 million books, with substantial holdings of historical items and manuscripts and dating back 2000 BC. Besides, that BL receives copies of around 8,000 items each day, from each publication produced in the UK, it has a program for content acquisition. Furthermore, the British Library adds around 3 million items annually, which occupies approximately 9.6 kilometers (6.0 mi) of new bookshelf space.
The British Library was established 46 years ago, on July 1, 1973. Before 1973, the BL was the part of the British Museum. As a result of the British Library Act of 1972, the library department was detached from the museum.
The British Museum Library was founded in 1753. It contained one of the world’s largest collections of manuscripts, books, and periodicals, both antique and contemporary, in British and foreign languages. The museum library had the collections of Sir Hans Sloane, Robert and Edward Harley, and Sir Robert Cotton.
Current British Library
The British Library welcomes around 1.6 million visitors and readers entering the doors of the library, per year. Nowadays, the Library provides lively events, arts, and exhibitions program, many places to read, meet, drink, eat, and shop.
For 2023, the BL is looking forward to its 50th anniversary. By that time, BL aims to become the most creative, open, and innovative institution of its kind of libraries in the whole world.
The British Library provides space for over 1,200 readers. BL has 11 Reading Rooms in London. Each room specializes in different subject areas, including:
- The Asian and African Reading Room
- Asian & African Studies Reading Room
- The Boston Spa Reading Room
- Boston Spa, Yorkshire
- The Business & IP Centre
- The Humanities Reading Room
- The Manuscript Reading Room
- The Maps Reading Room
- The Newsroom
- The Rare Books and Music Reading Room
- The Science Reading Rooms
- The Social Sciences Reading Room
Visitors who do not need access to the collections, they can use library public areas to study.
A Reader Pass
Access to the British Library is free, but first, visitors must get a Reader Pass and accept the Library Terms and Conditions of card use. Online registration is available. By setting an online account, library users can order collections right from their accounts.
BL Opening Hours
The British Library only issues those visitors who are 18 and over to be allowed to enter the library building and get access to a number of collections.
The British Library building is open:
- Monday - Thursday 09:30 - 20:00
- Friday 09:30 - 18:00
- Saturday 09:30 - 17:00
- Sunday 11:00 - 17:00
The Reading Rooms are available from Monday to Saturday, except the Boston Spa Reading Room, which is closed on weekends.
The Asian & African Studies, Manuscripts, and Maps reading rooms work:
- Monday - 10:00 - 17:00; Tuesday - Saturday 09:30 - 17:00; Sunday -Closed.
The Humanities, Science, Rare Books & Music, Social Sciences, Business & IP Centre, and Newsroom work:
- Monday - 10:00 - 20:00; Tuesday - Thursday 09:30 - 20:00; Friday - Saturday 09:30 - 17:00; Sunday -Closed.
A Cloakroom and Locker Room
BL provides a free Cloakroom and Locker Room to allow visitors to leave bags, coats, and laptop cases. Both facilities are situated on the Lower Ground floor, accessible via ramp, a lift, or stairs. The cloakroom is unavailable on Sundays; Hence, all items must be placed in lockers.
Eat / Drink / Shop
BL offers a wide choice of dining options. Food & Drink concessions are available from 09.00 – 17.30.
Visitors can eat at:
- The Terrace Restaurant - situated on Floor 1. It offers artisan bread, homemade bakery products, quiches, scotch eggs, sausage rolls, etc.
- Terrace Café - on Floor 1. It offers hot bistro-style meals, an extensive salad bar, a roast of the day, and hot and cold savory snacks.
Visitors can drink at:
- Origin Coffee - Entrance Hall
- Origin Coffee - at Euston Road
- The Rotunda Bar - located outside on the Piazza
- King’s Library Coffee Bar - at the entrance
- Upper Ground Café
- The Last Word - outside on the Piazza
Visitors can shop at the British Library Shop. Library shop offers books of any genre, including classic crime stories, fantastic fairy tales, etc.
BL provides free Wi-Fi access for visitors at the British Library. To access the Wi-Fi, you should register and log on to British Library Wi-Fi.
BL runs a regular program of accessible tours and events, such as speech-to-text transcription events, British Sign Language (BSL) tours, and audio-description tours.
Besides, BL provides accessible toilets on all floors, and manual wheelchairs, which can be borrowed for free of charge. Note that wheelchairs are subject to availability. Visitors in need of wheelchairs are recommended to book in advance by reporting on 01937 546 060 or visit the information desk upon arrival and ask the library staff member.