I love libraries, so it’s no surprise that the British Library was on my list of must-see places in London. Both the national library of the United Kingdom as well as the largest library on the globe, the British Library was something I couldn’t leave England without visiting at least once. Fortunately my mom, always up for fueling my bookishness, kindly agreed to make it the second stop on our London adventure.
Although we only walked through a small part of the British Library, I was amazed to learn how enormous the building actually is. Established in 1973 when it separated from the British Museum and became its own entity, the British Library has over 170 million items in its collection. The primary function of the library is for research purposes; however, they do have some exhibits that the public can view for free, which is what my mom and I walked through on our brief visit.
The first exhibition we explored was Listen: 140 Years of Recorded Sound. Not only was this exhibit a fascinating look at how the way we experience sound has changed and developed since the invention of the phonograph in 1877, but it also contained some really fun interactive elements. For instance, there were these big circular seats that allowed you to blast a wide range of different songs, from classical music to the Doctor Who theme (my personal favorite). Sitting in this strange chair made me feel like a kid playing on some futuristic playground!
The highlight of the visit for me was the remarkably impressive Treasures of the British Library exhibit. Nearly every item in this exhibit made me gasp out loud: music from Beethoven! Writing from Jane Austen! Shakespeare texts! The original Magna Carta. I was taken aback by the range, scope, and rarity of this astounding collection (and the fact that it is all free to the public!). I also enjoyed listening to the recordings available with headphones placed throughout the exhibit, especially the ones of writers talking in various interviews and reading various texts. Hearing the voices of Virginia Woolf and James Joyce for the first time was incredible… I never expected them to sound the way they did!
All in all, the British Library is well worth visiting if you’re ever in the King’s Cross area of London. Whether you’re a history buff, literature fiend, or simply interested in seeing some amazing items, there’s something for everyone in these amazing exhibitions!
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Have you ever been to the British Library? What is your favorite thing to see there? Let me know in the comments section below!