From the Conference Circuit #1 – UKSG British Library Visit

by Byron Russell, Ingenta Connect

On the last day of UKSG, I was privileged to go with a group of about 20 other delegates to the British library is facility at Boston spa. We were lucky with the weather, a beautiful sunny April day. Coach transportation was provided, but I took my own car to Wetherby – a short drive from the UKSG conference centre in Harrogate.

The British Library site is a former munitions factory and cover 60 acres: it was established in 1960 as the National Lending Library for Science and Technology (NLLTS). By using a former Ministry of Defence facility, it was possible to start operating in half the time and at half the cost that would otherwise have been the case.

The British Library itself was formed in 1973 as a result of the British library act of 1972 and it brought together the NLLTS as well as other libraries and information services, like the British Museum library, patents office library and the Colindale newspaper archive. During the air raids on London in World War II some 225,000 volumes were destroyed at the British Museum library, and tens of thousands of historic newspapers were burnt at the old facility in Colindale in North London. Logistically the Boston Spa site makes perfect sense – conveniently it’s midway between London and Edinburgh and is within easy reach of road and rail connections.

The Boston Spa collection contains…

  • over 260,000 journal titles
  • almost 500,000 conference proceedings
  • almost 5 million reports, mostly of a scientific nature
  • 100km (yes, 100 km!) of shelving on site
  • Document delivery expedites 400,000 requests from 20,000 customers worldwide
  • …and over 3m books

These are held in state of the art high-rise storage buildings, but latest which was opened in 2009. Within the additional storage buildings practically everything is automated, there are no workers in the high rise storage facilities themselves, not least because atmosphere and humidity is carefully controlled; oxygen levels are maintained under 15%.

Particularly interesting was the digitisation suite and the small digital archiving facility, where software of yesteryear were emulated and updated for the future, using an array of still-working computers from the early years of personal computing.



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