Harry Potter and the Two London Libraries

LIS Class at Platform 9 and 3/4.  Photo courtesy of Dr. Welsh.
LIS Class at Platform 9 and 3/4. Photo courtesy of Dr. Welsh.

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.

A reading room at the British Library
A reading room at the British Library

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).

Device used for sorting and transporting items throughout the library
Device used for sorting and transporting items throughout the library

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.

View of the King's Library
View of the King’s Library

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.

Front of the London Library
Front of the London Library

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.

Not always an easy task.
Not always an easy task.

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:

Just a small section of the London Library's 19 miles of shelving
Just a small section of the London Library’s 19 miles of shelving
Books at the London Library
Books and a chair at the London Library
Part of the library's physical, pre-1950 catalog
Part of the library’s physical, pre-1950 catalog


Entrance to the Bodleian Library at Oxford University

Ok, I’ve fallen a little behind on my blog posts, so I’m going to try to catch up over the next couple of days.  For now, let’s travel back in time all the way to Tuesday, June 30.  This was a particularly tiring and rewarding day, tiring because of the hour at which we had to leave (6:45) and rewarding because of the fantastic city and sites we visited.

Oxford is not too much like London, I have to say.  It is relatively small and quaint, the quintessential college town.  History is everywhere, and most of the buildings seem like relics from a distant century (which, of course, they are).  But Oxford is also extremely lively.  People are everywhere, the plentiful pubs are packed, and the city seems just as alive as it must have been 400 years ago, if not more so.  It’s an odd mix of old and new, and old being used as new.  Beautiful and fascinating.

Our first stop was the Bodleian Library, the main library of the University of Oxford.  Our amazing host Naomi took us through this venerable and staggeringly historic building.  Now be warned that Naomi was such a wonderful and charismatic host that it was easy for me to become wrapped up in her stories and completely neglect to take notes, so forgive me if my info seems a little sparse.  The library has existed for a very long time, but the current incarnation began in the 15th century after a generous donation of books by Humfrey, Duke of Gloucester proved too much for the existing library to handle.  This caused a new building to be built to house Humfrey’s materials.  After that the library flourished until 1549, when religious intolerance caused a great many of the materials to be destroyed, owing to the fact that they were Catholic in nature and the King was decidedly not.

Statue of Sir Thomas Bodley

Thankfully, a fellow named Thomas Bodley decided to intervene.  Sir Bodley had quite the resume, first becoming a spy for the queen and then ambassador to all of Europe.  Throughout the years he was able to acquire enough wealth to pour a ridiculous amount of money into rebuilding the library of his alma mater:  Oxford.  He donated a huge number of books from all around the world and completely remade the library so that it could house his awesome collection.  As a bit of a reward Oxford named the library after him and put his name on a giant marble benefactor’s board for all who enter the library to see.  Nowadays the library is as impressive as it ever was.  It houses over 13 million items (over 1 million of which are digitized) and, due to a very generous copyright agreement, receives a copy of every book published in the U.K.  It’s quite the national treasure, and as a library student I am extremely happy I was able to tour it.