Report on the history and development of the British Library

Origins and Foundation of the British Library

The British Library is the National library of the United Kingdom. The library was formed under the British Library Act in 1972 and in 1973 was established and became a new and separate organization to the British Museum. It consists of the former British Museum Library, the National Central Library, the National Lending Library for Science and Technology, the British National Bibliography, the Indian Office Library and Records, the British Newspaper collection, HMSO binderies and the National Sound Archives holdings.

The library’s origins trace back to the British Museum library which was founded in 1753 based on earlier collections including the Cottian library holdings and a bequest for King George III. Fredrick Augusta Barnard was appointed as Royal librarian and developed the collection in a systematic way. The collection included English and Italian literature and British and European history. Montague House was purchased by the National Trustees in1759 and became the first reading room. The growth and development of the library depended upon donations from aristocracy.

Montague House was demolished later to make way for a massive circular reading room which was opened in 1857 with Antonio Panizzi appointed to relocate the library and established a new cataloguing system. The library was selective of their patron who required a pass to be admitted. Holding readers included Charles Dickens, Karl Marx, Lenin who used the pseudonym Jacob Richter and George Bernard Shaw and Virginia Woolf. Panizzi convinced the government to enforce a law that required all publishers to make legal deposits titles.

During World War 2 the library building and some 225,000 books were destroyed by air raid attacks. The rebuilding of the library and book stacks didn't begin till after 1945. By the 1960’s storage space became a problem and consideration to extend the Bloomsbury site was proposed. Storage space became an even greater problem by the early 1970's at the Museum Library. In 1971 the ‘White Paper” report recognized this urgency to re-house the library’s collection in a new building on the Bloomsbury site. In 1974 the government decided against this and a new site was found near St. Pancras station. It took over 30 years of political, economic and other assorted wrangling before the new library opened in 1997 and in 1998 was officially opened by HM Queen Elizabeth II.

The library’s first website was launched in 1995.  This was redesigned in 2001 and the number on time their pages are visited daily has trebled from 1998 – 2004.

The British Library Today

The British Library is situated at St Pancras, London and open to anyone who has a need to use their collection. The library has become one of the world's major research libraries, researchers can apply for a Readers Pass providing they have proof of signature and permanent address. 

The library is known as the world’s largest in terms of items held in their collection. The library’s collection includes 14 million books, second to the Library of Congress. The British Library contains holding of over 150 million items in all know languages and formats. Items such as books, newspapers, magazines, journals, data bases, music and sound recordings, maps, patents, drawings, prints, manuscripts dating back to 300BC.

The British Library is a legal deposit library and receives all books that are published in the UK and Ireland which includes all foreign books distributed in Britain. Items that are published outside UK and Ireland are also purchased as part of the collection. Every year 3 million items are added to their collection.

                                                  Lobby of the British Library 2001

 Reference list

The British Library 2010, George III Collection: the King’s Library, viewed 27 August 2010,

The British Museum 2010, King’s Library, viewed 27 August 2010,

'Cotton Library' 2010, Wikipedia, Wikipedia Online, viewed 20 October 2010,

'Montagu House : Bloomsberry', Wikipedia, Wikipedia Online,  viewed 27 October 2010,

Stuart, AP, Davis DG Jr.(Introduced by) & Basbanes, NA (Forward by) 2009, The Library: An illustrated History, American Library Association, Google Ebook library, p. 237-240, viewed 28 August2010,  

'Fredrick Augusta Barnard',  2010, Wikipedia, Wikipedia Online, viewed 27 October 2010,

Extracts from the British Library Website ‘About Us’, viewed 29 August 2010,

'Gutenberg Bible', 2010, Wikipedia, Wikipedia Online,  viewed 27 October 2010,

'Chaucers Canterbury Tales',  2010, Wikipedia, Wikipedia Online, viewed 27October 2010,

Swinburne Library, Inside (British Library), viewed 12 September 2010,

The British Library 2010, History of British Library Newspapers, viewed 12 September 2010,

British Library 2010, Electronic resources and journals, viewed 12 September 2010,

The British Library, 2010, 'About Us', viewed 25 September 2010,  <>

 'Indian Office records', 2010, Wikipedia, Wikipedia Online, viewed 12 October 2010, <>

The British Library, 2010, 'Explore the world's knowledge', viewed 12 October 2010,<>>

Extracts from Wikipedia,  2010 'British Library', viewed 20 October, 2010,

Websites for Images

The British Library: the main pedestrian entrance 2010 [image],, viewed 20 August 2010,

British Library Gate shadow 2007 [image], New World Encyclopaedia, viewed 20 August 2010,

British Museum: The King’s Library in 1851 [image], British Museum, viewed 23 August 2010,

King George III of the United Kingdom 2009 [image],Wikipedia, viewed 23 August 2010,

Chaucer's Canterbury Tales [image], Google images, viewed 23 August 2010,

Gutenberg Bible 2007 [image], Google images, viewed 23 August 2010,

The Octagon Library at the Queens 1819 [image], British Library, viewed 27 August 2010,

Payne, Albert Henry, Antique prints of the British Museum 1852 [image], ashare, viewed 27 August 2010,

Simonc James, The North Prospect of Montagu House 1715 [image],Wikipedia, viewed 28 August 2010,

Jingangjing (Diamond Sutra) 2009 [image] viewed 28 August 2010,

WW2 Air raid spotter on London rooftop 2009 [image], Google images, viewed 29 August 2010,

British Museum Newspaper Repository, 1980's

Image of British Library

Lobby of the British library 2001

Video citation

BonnyBunny4real 2007 [You Tube Video Library], Reading Room of the British Museum, 16 April, viewed on 10 September 2010,