The British Library was created on 1 July 1973 as a result of the British Library Act 1972. Prior to this, the national library was part of the British Library, which provided the bulk of the holdings of the new library, alongside smaller organisation such as the National Central Library, the National Lending Library for Science and Technology and the British National Bibliography
In 1974 functions previously exercised by the Office for Scientific and Technical Information were taken over; in 1982 the India Office Library and Records and the HMSO Binderies became British Library responsibilities. In 1983, the Library absorbed the National Sound Archive, which holds many sound and video recordings, with over a million discs and thousands of tapes.
The core of the Library’s historical collections is based on a series of donations and acquisitions from the 18th century, known as the “foundation collections”. These include the books and manuscripts of Sir Robert Cotton, Sir Hans Sloane, Robert Harley and the Kings Library of King George III, as well as the Old Royal Library donated by King George II
For many years its collections were dispersed in various buildings around central London, in places such as Bloomsbury (within the British Museum), Chancery Lane, Bayswater, and Holborn with an inter library lending centre at Boston Spa, Wetherby in West Yorkshire (situated on Thorp Arch Trading Estate) and the newspaper library at Colindale, north-west London.
Initial plans for the British Library required demolition of an integral part of Bloomsbury – a seven-acre swathe of streets immediately in front of the Museum, so that the Library could be situated directly opposite. After a long and hard-fought campaign led by Dr George Wagner, this decision was overturned and the library was instead constructed on a site at Euston Road next to St Pancras Railway Station.
From 1997 to 2009 the main collection was housed in this single new building and the collection of British and overseas newspapers were housed at Colindale. In July 2008 the Library announced that it would be moving low-use items to a new storage facility in Boston Spa in Yorkshire and that it planned to close the newspaper library at Colindale, ahead of a later move to a similar facility on the same site From January 2009 to April 2012 over 200 km of material was moved to the Additional Storage Building and is now delivered to British Library Reading Rooms in London on request by a daily shuttle service.
Construction work on the Newspaper Storage Building was completed in 2013 and the newspaper library at Colindale closed on 8 November 2013. The collection has now been split between the St Pancras and Boston Spa sites. The British Library Document Supply Service (BLDSS) and the Library’s Document Supply Collection are based on the same site in Boston Spa. Collections housed in Yorkshire, comprising low-use material and the newspaper and Document Supply collections, make up around 70% of the total material the library holds The Library previously had a book storage depot in Woolwich, south-east London, which is no longer in use.
The new library was designed especially for the purpose by the architect Colin St John Wilson who faced considerable criticism from Prince Charles. Facing Euston Road is a large piazza that includes pieces of public art, such as large sculptures by Eduardo Paolozzi (a bronze statue based on William Blake‘s study of Isaac Newton) and Antony Gormley. It is the largest public building constructed in the United Kingdom in the 20th century
In the middle of the building is a six-storey glass tower inspired by a similar structure in the Beinecke Library, containing the King’s Library with 65,000 printed volumes along with other pamphlets, manuscripts and maps collected by King George III between 1763 and 1820.
The building was Grade I listed on 1 August 2015