Celebrating 50 years as the UK’s national library

British Library St Pancras building exterior

Public events will celebrate our users, the institutions and individuals that came together to form the UK national library and our collection.

Published date:

This week marks 50 years since the British Library began operations in July 1973. We legally came into existence following the passing of the British Library Act (1972) – born out of a vision to create a new kind of national institution, which would encourage scientific and technological research, business, the arts and humanities.

Several organisations, including the British Museum Library, were brought together to create the British Library. Since 1973, our collection has grown to become one of the great libraries of the world, making the nation's cultural and intellectual heritage available to everyone.

Our shelves hold over 170 million items – a living collection that gets bigger every day, supported by the Legal Deposit mandate to collect everything published in the UK, whether physical or digital. Our mission is to develop, preserve and provide access to the vast resource for today’s users and far into the future.

Some highlights since we began operations in 1973:

Although our collection has developed over 250 years and continues to grow, we are relatively young as an institution. There will be a series of Pay-What-You-Wish events to celebrate our 50th anniversary. The programme will comprise of online and in-person events in London and Yorkshire throughout July.

We recently published a new strategic vision, Knowledge Matters, which outlines how, as the UK’s national library, we will serve new and existing audiences over the next seven years while adapting to the monumental changes already impacting the knowledge industry and the wider world.

Image credit:
British Library Archive


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