The British Library holds over 150 million items and is part of the copy right act. All books printed must have one copy deposited here. All of the services offered are free and the majority of their income is generated from donations. This serves as a reference library only, books or items can not be checked out. It is mainly used for academic research, although with the gift shop, cafe and wonderful reading rooms and garden, it is increasingly becoming a cultural center for people to gather. It is so massive, that half of the building is underground, and they are hoping to expand in the future.
Their collection of over 14 million books was a sight to behold. King George 3rd left behind his gorgeous collection, pictured above with his statue, with the requirement that all the books be stored in one place, and they would be accessible to all. These books are so carefully preserved and cared for, that this is still possible today. In order to retreive a book you must place an order and a librarian will deliver it.
It was incredible to use the interactive 'Turning the Pages' software that made it possible to leaf through the virtual pages of some incredible selections-like Mozart's musical diary, and da Vinci's sketches! Check out http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/virtualbooks/index.html to do the same!
The wonder of this library so far does not even include their collection of "treasures" and treasures they were! Behind the glass, I spied an original Alice in Wonderland book, the first major book printed in England from 1530, and a book of Gospels in Greek from 995, just to name a few. The Magna Carta was incredible, of course, and had a room of it's own. This is not a pun on Virginia Woolf-although I did see a copy of Mrs. Dalloway from 1925! Walking through the gallery made me feel like my undergraduate studies were coming alive right in front of me! Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Marlowe's 1616 edition of Dr. Faustus, Jane Austen's Persuasion from 1815, and some Shakespeare items from 1595 were all in front of my face. This has been a major highlight of my trip so far.
There is also an online gallery, and you can see it at http://www.bl.uk/
The picture above with the rows of stacks was probably the most fun. As you walk towards it, the stacks dance out and seem to come at you. It was a 3-dimensional piece, but you can barely tell until you are right up close to it.