British Library

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The British Library holds (as a legal requirement) every published work in the UK. This includes all major maps produced by the Ordnance Survey and elsewhere, and anything published by HMSO.

Authority HM Government
Location St Pancras WC1H 8NN. See map
Membership/ID Restricted membership; see below
Photocopy policy Not yet known
Camera policy No cameras allowed

What is held here

By legal requirement, anything ever commercially published has to be stored in the British Library. Consequently, they have an extensive collection of maps. Due to the destruction of the Ordnance Survey's archive facilities during World War II, they contain essential mapping information that is hard to find elsewhere. Access to the library is difficult, but rewarding.

How to use it

Come out of St Pancras or Euston station and follow signs. It's on the A501, but don't expect to be able to park anywhere.

Before you can access anything in the library, you must register for a reader's pass. The BL will give these out if they are reasonably sure you are looking for items that only they have, but you need to do your homework first! You cannot just turn up with some ID and expect to get in.

First, have a look at The British Library's online catalogue and make a note of the shelfmarks of items you want to have a look at.

Next, you need to pre-register for a reader's ticket. Follow the instructions, and print out the reader number that you are given with.

When you enter the BL, you'll be given a quick search by security. Reader's registration is upstairs to the Upper Ground floor and to the right. Give the clerk your printed out pre-registration form and complete the application using one of the available terminals. You'll be given a ticket number - when your number is called out, go to the desk where a clerk will give you a quick interview to check you really want to be here, and know what you're talking about, or whether you're just a confused numpty who thought you might be able to borrow the latest Mills & Boon and talk your way around not having a valid proof of address.

Ritchie turned up with the required ID, a printout of the pre-registration form and a list of shelfmarks, and got a pass almost immediately. Your mileage may vary.

Having obtained a pass, you will need to go to the locker room in the basement to drop off coats and bags. You are only allowed pencils, paper and clear plastic bags inside the BL - when you register for a pass, you'll be given a specific list of things you can't take in.

Facilities

The map room is on the third floor, and contains large tables for spreading out maps on, similar to the second floor in the National Archives. Once you're registered, you can wander up to a terminal and start ordering things. You need to add items to the reservation list first, which will check their availability, then you can click on "Request item" to get them.

The online catalogue is rather byzantine and unhelpful. Don't expect to be able to do nice searches like "MT photographs" that you can do in the National Archives that instantly retrieve potential treasures. Items take about 70 minutes to retrieve for storing, and you can only order 4 items at a time. However, you can at least reserve them the day before you visit. In fact, doing your homework before you go seems to be essential for visiting the BL.

The BL do not allow cameras at all, so don't pull out your iPhone and start snapping away.

There are a number of restaurants in the BL. Food is a bit nicer than the National Archives' cafe, but about twice as expensive.

Opening hours

The British Library's opening hours can be found here.

Items found here

See the full list for this establishment.