The British Library; a National Treasure and a Booklover’s Paradise

As one of the world’s most literary cities, London boasts a pretty amazing selection of libraries and The British Library on Euston Road is one of the most popular. It is the largest library in the city of London in terms of catalogued items and is also the country’s national library.

Whether you’re after a century-old journal, love getting lost between shelves stacked to the ceiling with books, or are a bookworm looking for a laidback spot to finish your current read, the British Library will tickle your fancy. Here we’ll review its backstory and what it has to offer visitors.

Brief History of the British Library

Although the British Library officially opened its doors in 1997, it has been around as the British Museum Library since 1753. It began as a general repository for manuscripts of notable individuals in British history, such as Sir Hans Sloane and Edward Harley. In 1823, the library inherited collections from the George III library, doubling the number of books, manuscripts and other written publications in its catalogue.

This left the management no option but to move to the current location of the British Museum, where the library’s outstanding dome-roofed, round reading room attracted a slew of historically significant figures such as Charles Darwin, Virginia Woolfe and even Lenin. The reading room has even been featured in both a novel and film.

After the World War, the British Museum Library moved to its current location, where there was enough space to accommodate collections from its different branches across the country. Queen Elizabeth II officially launched it in 1997.

The Library Today

Today, the British Library is one of the largest public libraries in Britain, with over 170 million catalogued items. Its collection grows annually and now includes digitised manuscripts, numerous copy-right free images, and other digital collections.

The facility also holds numerous exhibitions and live events and reportedly attracts over 1.6 million visitors annually. Anyone can visit, but access to reading rooms is restricted to members only.

Things to Do at the British Library

Here are some fun things to do while at the British Library:

–         Grab a Snack at one of the Library’s Cafes

The British Library has six cafes, five of which are open to the public. As with the library, the ambience at each is pretty laidback, meaning you can even enjoy a snack as you wind up on that last chapter of Sidney Sheldon’s novel. Opening and closing times vary for each restaurant, so you might want to check the website first.  There’s a shop on-site, too, check it out for souvenirs on your way out.

–         Take a Picture inside the King’s Tower

The King’s Tower is a six-storey glass tower library at the heart of the British Library. It houses about 65,000 printed publications, numerous pamphlets and manuscripts collected by King George between the 17th and 18th centuries. The glass surrounding the structure contains a special substance that swells and expands to form a heat shield upon heat exposure, reducing the risk of a fire spreading in the tower for up to two hours.

Know Before You Go

There’s free WIFI for all visitors and toilets on all floors. The library also offers cloakrooms and lockers for free, but they may be unavailable on Sundays. There are luggage size restrictions, and smoking is completely prohibited. It opens from 9.30 am to 8 pm Monday through Thursday, while opening and closing times vary on weekends.

  • The British Library Location: 96 Euston Rd, London, NW1 2DB
  • Contacts:+44 (0)1937 546060
  • Website: