Catalogue description Records of the British Library and the British Museum Library

Details of DH
Reference: DH
Title: Records of the British Library and the British Museum Library

Records of the British Library, including those inherited from the former British Museum Library.

Includes some records otherwise in ED 244.

Date: 1826-1985
Related material:

Records of the Royal Commission on National Museums and Galleries, 1928-29, are in: T 105

For the website of the British Library, please see: PF 88

Held by: British Library Corporate Archives, not available at The National Archives
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English

British Library Corporate Archives, 1973-

British Museum Library, 1753-1973

Physical description: 69 series
Access conditions: No records held at The National Archives in this departmental code
Publication note:

A History of the British Museum Library, 1753-1973 by P R Harris. London: British Library, 1998

Administrative / biographical background:

The British Museum Library, which formed the largest single element in the newly constituted British Library in 1973, as its Reference Division, originated in the founding departments of the British Museum, brought together in the eighteenth century. By the 1970s it embraced the departments of Printed Books, Manuscripts, Oriental Manuscripts and Printed Books, the Science Reference Library and, under the auspices of the Department of Printed Books, the Newspaper Library at Colindale and the Official Publications Library, formerly State Paper Room.

In 1928 the Royal Commission on National Museums and Libraries chaired by Viscount d'Abernon reported on the serious overcrowding suffered by the library departments of the British Museum and recommended that their accommodation should be expanded as a matter of urgency. This proposal was not implemented, however, and the trustees of the British Museum did not favour the recommendation of the Kenyon Committee on Public Libraries in 1927 that the Central Library for Students should become a special department of the museum.

During the Second World War the main reading room of the British Museum and adjacent storage and the entire newspaper storage at Colindale were extensively damaged by bombing; and the accommodation lost was only gradually replaced over the next two decades, while only a partial replacement of destroyed books and newspapers was possible. The post-war County of London Development Plan designated a new site for a national library and in 1955, three years after a public enquiry on this proposal, the Minister of Housing approved it. In 1964 the government gave approval in principle to outline plans for building on a site in Bloomsbury, south of Great Russell Street, which had been drawn up by the architects Sir Leslie Martin and Colin St John Wilson.

Following the reversal in 1967 of the government's acceptance of the Bloomsbury site, a Committee on National Libraries was appointed under (Sir) Frederick Dainton. Its recommendations for the establishment of a national library separate from the British Museum, though modified by a white paper of 1971 (Cmnd.4572) were broadly those enacted in the British Library Act 1972. In July 1973 the British Library formally came into being, uniting the administration of the former British Museum Library with those of the former National Central Library, British National Bibliography Ltd and the National Lending Library for Science and Technology.

The former functions of the constituent parts of the British Library continued and developed after the formation of the library in July 1973. The library was divided into:

  • i) the Lending Division at Boston Spa, West Yorkshire; and (all based in London);
  • ii) Bibliographic Services Division;
  • iii) Reference Division;
  • iv) Research and Development Department (incorporating the former Office for Scientific and Technical Information);
  • v) Central Administration, which contains a press and public relations section in addition to dealing with matters of personnel, accommodation and legal services.
Since then it has taken over responsibility for the India Office Library and Records and the HMSO Binderies (in 1982) and the National Sound Archive (in 1983). It has also undergone structural changes which are not detailed here.

In April 1974, the British Library also took over responsibility for the Library Association Library, which it administers as part of the Department of Printed Books in the Reference Division. Its function is to serve the book and other documentary needs of librarians in their professional capacity. The Library Association itself, although housed in the same building in Ridgmount Street, London W.C.1., remains a separate organisation. It was founded in 1877, received a royal charter in 1898 and is now registered as an educational charity.

  • The British Library
  • Lending Division
  • Reference Division
  • Central Administration
  • Bibliographic Services Division
  • Research & Development Department
  • Department of Printed Books
  • Department of Manuscripts
  • Department of Manuscripts
  • Department of Manuscripts & Printed Books
  • Science Reference Library
  • Newspaper Library
  • Library Association Library
  • Holborn Branch
  • Bayswater Branch

Have you found an error with this catalogue description?

Help with your research