What goes on inside the King’s Library?

Get a glimpse inside the tower...

This glass tower, right at the heart of the British Library, houses the King’s Library. There is more to the tower than you might expect though. If you stay watching it for long enough, you might see a librarian moving the shelves to retrieve a book.

Follow Adrian Edwards, the Head of Printed Heritage Collections, on a tour inside.

And see what happened when Fiona Bruce visited.

Other things to look out for:

  • Look at the glass surrounding the structure. This is no ordinary glass. Mixed into it is a special ‘intumescent’ substance which, when exposed to fire, swells up and expands to form an insulating heat shield. This can reduce the risk of fire spreading inside the tower for up to 120 minutes. 
  • Can you see the little white boxes with antennae? The Library is home to over 170 million items which are monitored 24 hours a day by sensors like these. There are more than 100 environmental sensors scattered around the building (you’ll also spot them inside our Galleries). They may be mini gadgets but they can prevent big disasters as they send live data about changes in the environment to the Conservation team. This includes levels of temperature, relative humidity, visible light and ultra-violet radiation.

  • Can you spot the cotton tape tied to some of the books? For many of these fragile books, repair would be too invasive for the historic fine binding, and so this tape keeps them held together.

And here are window cleaners Bernie and Barry working their magic so the tower remains suitably spick and span. You can see the cradle they’re standing in tucked behind one of the pillars.

How long does it take to clean the King’s Library Tower? Scroll through the image carousel above to find out.

Explore more of the King's Library

What is the King's Library?

At the heart of the building, a tall glass tower – the King’s Library – houses the collections of King George III.

King’s Library architecture and design

Find out how the King’s Library presented the ultimate opportunity to architects to show off the treasures of the British Library.