How are our books organised?

Find out about how our collections are organised in the basements.

Although books are organised by subject matter in Reading Rooms, this would not work in the basements due to the sheer number of new items we acquire each year (approximately 6 miles or 13 km).

Instead, a different set of criteria is used based on the size of the publication, language, how niche it is and how often it is requested by Readers.

Because of this, in the basements you’d be able to find a book about American football right next to one about the birds of Mongolia!

Take the gargantuan Klencke Atlas as an example, located outside the Maps Reading Room on the Third Floor. This is not just a display-piece – it is part of the working library. 

It is also a reminder of one of the problems of storing books: the size of the volumes. Books cannot simply be stored according to their content or author. In order to make the best use of space, books must also be shelved according to size – folio, quarto, and so on, right up to this giant size.

Take a peek into our basements and see the conveyor belt system – which transports books to and from Reading Rooms – in action…

You may be surprised to know that 70% of our collection is not in fact stored in our main building in St Pancras. Do you know where it's kept? Scroll through the image carousel above to find out.

Explore more beneath your feet...

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Fire and water are the nemeses of the British Library and we do everything we can to keep them away from our collections.

How do we treat mould and pests?

Bookworms aren’t the only ones who enjoy our books.

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If our air con unit fails, it's all down to these nine buckets of ice...