Now let’s go on to Wednesday, July 1. We got a pretty early start on the day so that we could head over to King’s Cross station and take the obligatory group picture at the famous Platform 9 and 3/4 from Harry Potter. I’m not the biggest Harry Potter fan in the world (although I did read all the books because I saw it as my sworn duty as a probable future librarian) but even I saw this as a must-do activity. And it was totally worth it. We got there early enough that the hordes of Potter-maniacs (or whatever you call them) had not yet arrived and the line for pictures was quite reasonable. The girl taking pictures and posing people in front of the sign was great and set us up in the magical conga line seen above (as the resident sasquatch I can be seen in the back, closest to the sign). I even got to hold a wand! *squeal* But, yeah, it was actually a lot of fun.
After that we had to do, like, actual academic study, so we went to the British Library. This is one of the more impressive libraries I have been to (possibly the most impressive, rivaling the Library of Congress which I have not seen since I was a child). The number of works on hand at the library is staggering. It receives a copy of every book published in the U.K. and Ireland, which totals about 8,000 items a day. Among its holdings are the world’s largest permanent collection of stamps and the world’s second largest collection of pornography (second only to… you guessed it: the Vatican).
It is no surprise that the library is as massive and impressive as it is. It went massively over budget, costing approximately 10 pounds for every British taxpayer, according to our tour guide. Some of its prominent features include the round reading room where Karl Marx famously wrote Das Kapital and the King’s Library. The King’s Library was King George III’s personal library and now resides in the center of the British Library. It contains 85,000 items, including a first edition of the Canterbury Tales. The British Library is not a lending library so any studying you do will have to occur on-premises. Which is totally fine, because if you love libraries you likely won’t want to leave for a while.
After that was a trip to a far more traditional (but quite impressive in its own right) library: the London Library. In contrast to the British Library, the London Library does lend materials. In fact, it was founded in 1841 on the agitation of Thomas Carlyle, who wanted a lending library with reference materials. It began with only a couple thousand books but began expanding in 1845. Now it has over one million volumes.
Currently the London Library has about 7,000 members. Interestingly, it also has its own classification system, which was invented by librarian Charles Hagberg Wright. Much of the library’s holdings are cataloged online (everything post-1950, amounting to about 68% of the collection), but a large percentage are not. This means that many items must be searched for physically.
However, this only serves to give the library some of its immense charm. The London Library is a treasure for the city and, like so much of London, is historic, beautiful, and amazingly functional. Here are a few more photos of the library: