Originally part of the British museum, the British Library was separated from its parent in 1973 to become one of the world’s greatest cultural institutions in its own right. A quarter of a century later, it moved into its own home at London’s St Pancras.
The impressive modernist red-brick building designed by architect Sir Colin St. John Wilson caused a lot of controversy while it was under construction and continues to divide opinions to this day.
One of its most spectacular features is the six-storey King’s Library Tower containing precious volumes from King George III’s collection that was gifted to the library at the British museum after the monarch’s death in 1823.
In her 2007 free verse (=poetry that does not have a fixed structure and does not rhyme) Theresa Shiban gives a vivid description of this colossal yet very welcoming temple of knowledge whose doors are open not only to students and researches but to every book lover.
The first thing you notice is what you don’t it is not imposing overwhelming you are not made to feel insignificant with monumental humility it is the box the words come in storey upon storey hidden below not towering above to impress or oppress its exalted purpose democratised grandeur and majesty achieved by an honest brick A British Institution wrestled down to size to a human scale and gifted I am welcomed by the horizontals elevated not cowed the masses ennobled by nothing more than literacy or rather nothing less a gentle spectrum (reds browns whites blacks greens) wraps around a space for meeting a Lego tower points the way I am invited in * * * * and enter into light a cathedral space of secular worship (in the beginning was the word) vaults of them, below and above a bank of words you spend and spend but never lose I tread soft rounded stairs handling marble leather brass (material of privilege offered to the proletariat) mirroring the gold embossed spines of a king’s library more light (where is it coming from?) directed coaxed refracted toyed with a conjurer’s trick of mirrors made to bounce around corners and softly illuminate the illuminated verticals of stripy colour alpha digit diamond dot Volume 1 A – K Volume 2 L – Z a 6-storey jewel box glowing * * * * I detour through Humanities more laughing light whites and warming wood the visual rhythm of grids and open cages (Someone let the words out again!) multiples of plug-sized squares magnified and morphed into the sculptural ceiling above a latter day clerestory for contemporary scribes boxes within boxes within the biggest box of all My work Is Obviously Important Look Where I Do It * * * * I continue up the familiar stair to A&A and the desk I claim is mine (8115) safe protected cherished, even in a room of one’s own (my own) (your own) I sit and begin to work to distil the great chorus of language treasured within this building into one simple word gratitude © Theresa Shiban, reprinted with permission