From its outside appearance, from the road, the British Library could almost be mistaken for a red brick supermarket, small un-assuming and rather plain building, sitting next to St Pancras railway station. You entre the main entrance and you not sure what to expect next. And then, much to your surprise, you realise you have only just touched the surface of this incredible building, as you pass through the main entrance. The library gracefully beckons you from a short distance away. Very peaceful, set in quiet surroundings, the busy London street just melts away into the background and you find yourself, with much anticipation, just thinking about what’s next and around the corner.
I knew this visit, as part of my annual London trip with my Aunt, was going to be special. What I did not expect was, how much excitement it would generate. How I want to go back now, explore it further and just stay there all day. It wasn’t just the atmosphere of the place that enthralled me; the interior, a lofty, cream and red structure with fabulously designed ceilings, or the fantastic, visually clean lighting and plush modern layout which captured my imagination the most; it was what this building represented and signified: this was the world of learning.
Now, I was with someone who loves culture and art but who I have never seen read a novel, so I knew that paying for a reading pass to read in this place was not going to happen that day. Another day out then, that would have to wait. Still, I was going to get a through good look round. My Aunt loves walking and I wanted to explore every crevice while there was time.
We headed for the main and most popular section of the library first. The hot house of “bookish” treasure. The history collection, where all the famous authors we would perhaps like to aspire to were sitting; their pen and ink preserved in dim lighting and secure glass cases. It was a feast for the eye this. In the end, my Aunt did sit and wait patiently for me. She was happy to gaze and scan briefly, I took in as much detail as I could. It was wonderful. They were all there, yes all of them, as much as I could tell. Charlotte Bronte’s fine delicate notes of Jane Eyre, Hardy, Wordsworth and one of my favourite poets Rubert Brooke. My Aunt’s son had bought me a book of his poems once and I got to know him then. Shelley, Shakespeare and so on, the journey through the years of artistic and scholary thinking moved on through the many display cases.
What surprised me most was, there were not only written drafts, books and notes but musical scores could be found as well. Mozart and Shubert to name a few. You couldn’t help but start to imagine these people and their music, and soon you were playing their sonnets and symphonies in your head. Visually, it was stunning to. Not just dusky, dusty old books but illustrations centuries old, of religious manuscripts laced in gold film and elaborate edging. The labour of love, these scribes and scholars must have spend their whole life dedicated to these sacred religious works and their faith of which this art was founded upon.
Phew! Eventually it was coffee time. Even that was an experience. There were several cafes, of course there would need to be, spacious and seriously studious. Many visitors would sit with coffee in one hand and laptop in front of them. Minds playing, tinkering with words, forming arguments and ideas, reading, writing, thinking, creating. What a fantastic place this is I thought.
Eventually, we briefly looked at a separate area designed to show you the skilled process of preserving the books and paper. Apparently, every copy of every book published finds its way to the British Library. Passing back through into the main area, I glanced at some of the reading sections one could visit if you purchased a pass. I saw humanities and social sciences and thought, yeap, I am heading straight for you first when I come back.
I am hoping to return to the British Library in January for my birthday. What a treat. A train to King’s Cross, then just five minutes walk to the library. I plan to sit all day, explore and read, take tea and come home. What could be absolutely better that that. Not everyone would want to spend their birthday this way but for me it is ten times better than any shopping trip in Oxford street.
For those of you who like books and enjoy reading then go on, take a visit to the British Library Museum; the main library is free, you only have to pay for reading passes. I am not sure how much these are but I can’t imagine they would be that expensive. Further information can be found on the Library’s website.
Finally, I share my birthday with the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns. I am a Burn’s night babe, where the Scots party and eat Haggis. I won’t be eating Haggis that day but if you want to find me then you will know where I will be; taking tea and having my own ball.