The huge brick groundscraper that is the British Library in King’s Cross while open to the public to wander around, also offers guided tours to show off the highlights. It’s only the public areas, so no snooping around the vast basement space alas, but does give an overview of the building and the history of the library.

(c) British Library / Paul Grundy

On my tour, there were six of us, and from the way the reception desk spoke, it seems that might be a large number. I was also the only British person on the tour, and it’s clear that this is aimed at the curious visitor.

Starting with a bit of history about the library when it was inside the British Museum, and the lengthy efforts to find a new home, the tour goes around a few of the public spaces, pointing out the importance of a few items you might have wandered past without noticing.

The large-scale model of the library is shown off to explain the scale of the building, and I learned how they get books out of the King’s Tower – the huge glass wall filled with books and seemingly no doors to get inside. There are also some anecdotes, such as the slate tiles on the building came from the same quarry that supplied the tiles to the next door St Pancras station hotel, and so depleted the supply that when the hotel needed some spares, they had to look elsewhere. A comment about a ship also made me reappraise the layout of one wing of the library in a way I had never noticed.

Then into the Treasures gallery to show off some of the tour guide’s own favourites, from the Magna Carta to a Guttenberg Bible, amongst others.

For a tour described as a “Building tour”, I personally would have liked to learn a lot more about the building and its architecture. However, if you’ve never been to the British Library, or are only familiar with the exhibitions and not much else, then it’s a good tour that mainly leaves you with a better understanding of the history of the organisation.

The tours take place each week, typically Friday to Sunday at 2pm or 3pm, and lasts about an hour.

They cost £10 per adult and need to be booked in advance from here.

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2 comments
  1. Chris Rogers says:

    Did they mention that the glass tower holding the King’s Library only ended up there because the space was originally planned (in the 1960s) to hold the then-manual index system for the library?? Once technology overtook that idea it was replanned to house the library.

    • ianVisits says:

      That sounds like an urban legend, as any proposed designs for the unbuilt 1960s buildings in Bloomsbury would not have been required for the 1980s buildings in Kings Cross.

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