Sunday, July 15, 2007

British Library

I just can't seem to catch up with this thing. Too much has happened too quickly. I think I am going to post individual trips right now so you don't get bored.

Where was I? Oh, yeah, the British Library on Thursday. We had a guided tour of the library by one of the librarians. It was a really cool tour because we even got to go in some of the staff areas. The library has 800 miles of shelf space and that is only a portion of its holdings. These shelves are all underneath the first part of the building and the piazza outside. Amazingly, all of them are below sea level. Our guide said there are pumps and a holding tank that should prevent water from getting in there. If it does, however, they already have a contract with a freezer company to be able to immediately freeze the books. Then, once the books are frozen, they can take the appropriate steps to save the books.

It simply amazed me the sheer number of important books and documents the library owns. One display had works from Shakespeare, Austin, books from the 11th century, etc. etc. It was amazing to be able to see a piece of one of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

One of the main artistic features of the cafe/main area is a column of books 6 stories high all surrounded in glass. Those books were donated by king George III. In his will, he said that the books had to be used and had to be on display. You can imagine how difficult that could make things for the architect.

Speaking of use, this library is not like your public library where you can go in and walk through the stacks. No, here, it is more like the National Archive in D.C. You have to know what book or document you are looking for and request it. Our guide showed us a little of the book transportation machinery in the staff area. He said that the library has to be able to get a book to the person who requested it in 70 minutes or less. That might not sound like a short time but for an institution that size, 70 minutes is AMAZING. The books are tracked through every stage of their journey by barcodes on the crate they are put in and the barcode of the request slip that is put in them.

After the tour was over, I looked through a couple of the exhibits including the Sacred exhibit full of all sorts of religious objects. Definitely felt a little museum burnout.

I tried to go to the Midsummer Night's Dream production in Regent's Park but all the tickets were sold out by the time I got there. The same was true for the next night but I digress. Nothing else special happened that night.

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