British Library

Today we visited the British Library where we were given a guided tour by guest speaker Ben White. The library holds copies of all books, journals, magazines and audio that have been published in the U.K. since it opened in the 90’s with a collection founded in 1972. It also houses some original printed artifacts such as Shakespeare’s work and letters between royalties that were brought over from the British Museum. I was particularly interested by the 800,000 piece collection of King George 3rds library which he donated to cover his debt taxes.

The library deliberately has a regulated temperature and no direct sunlight in order to conserve the books, and oak fixtures and fittings to minimize sound. Just as the library has managed to preserve text as old as 2,300 years old, they aspire to make text produced nowadays available in 2,300 years time. They have extra storage underground and at alternative locations to house their growing collection. There are a number of reading rooms where registered readers can look at books they have requested, and online catalogues making this media more accessible than ever.

Ben explained that they hope to hold copies of all electronic publications here as well as digitalizing as many analogue pieces as possible. But with this expansion of the internet we have also had to become more aware of the restrictions of copyright. The library uses techniques such as ‘technical protection measures’ and ‘digital rights management’ to control access, but copyright often restricts them as preservers. For example they have some original books i.e. “Frolic Farm” for which they cannot trace the author for permission to copy and preserve. Copyright can be thought of as a social contract to protect the author but also to make material accessible for the public. Currently the copyright for books lasts for life of the author plus seventy years however this wouldn’t fit into our changing user habits, for example the way we forward emails without seeking permission of the person who wrote it. It was interesting to learn how copyright becomes more complicated where more than one person is involved in the production, for example for a sound recording we would need permission from the speaker, the recorder and for the script or notes used (which would all last for different durations).

Overall it was great to discover this archive of material that we can access for photographic research. Here at the library we can locate everything from sound recordings of different accents, to letters depicting what it was like to live in a past time which could help us identify with a certain narrative.


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