Today the British Library celebrates 20 years since its St Pancras building was officially opened by Her Majesty the Queen on 25 June 1998.
Designed by architect Sir Colin St John Wilson, the Library was the largest UK public building to be built in the 20th century, and achieved Grade I listing status from Historic England in 2015.
Today the British Library’s iconic London site is used by over 1.5 million people each year and is much-loved as a space for research, inspiration and enjoyment.
Key milestones in the past two decades include the widening of access to Reading Rooms, the opening of the Business & IP Centre (BIPC) in 2006, the opening of a new Learning Centre in 2010, the Newsroom Reading Room in 2014, the transformation in use of our public areas and the opening of the Alan Turing Institute for data science and artificial intelligence in 2015.
Over the past 20 years the British Library’s cultural programme has gone from strength to strength, with blockbuster exhibitions such as Sacred Texts, Magnificent Maps, Magna Carta and Harry Potter: A History of Magic, and a greatly expanded events programme including music, talks and festivals from the world’s leading writers, novelists, performers and thinkers.
Since the building opened, the surrounding neighbourhood of St Pancras and Kings Cross has also undergone a huge transformation, with the opening of the Eurostar terminal at St Pancras and the ongoing redevelopment of King’s Cross. The British Library was a co-founder in 2014 of the dynamic and successful Knowledge Quarter partnership, which now includes over 90 knowledge, creative and research organisations all within a mile’s radius of St Pancras. The British Library has expanded its community engagement programme in recent years, working with local community groups, organisations and individuals to develop collaborative projects.
Chief Executive of the British Library, Roly Keating, said of the building’s anniversary:
“This anniversary is the perfect opportunity to reflect on what an extraordinary building this is – visionary, utterly unique, inspiring to work in and to visit – and to celebrate the achievement of those who worked so hard to create it.
“As Colin St John Wilson said, ‘it is the essence of the Library to grow’, and we will continue to develop his legacy, evolving the Library’s St Pancras site into one of the world’s greatest 21st century centres of knowledge, meeting the future needs of our users, supporters, the local community and our partners.”
Last year the Library selected a joint venture led by Stanhope plc, working with architects Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (RSHP), as its preferred partner to develop a 2.8 acre site at the northern end of its estate. Plans currently in development will create new spaces for learning programmes, exhibitions, business and enterprise, as well as a new headquarters for the Alan Turing Institute. The new development will ensure that the Library continues to play a vital infrastructural role in UK research and innovation.
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The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world's greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world's largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library's collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation and includes books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, photographs,
newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. Up to 10 million people visit the British Library website - www.bl.uk - every year where they can view up to 4 million digitised collection items and over 40 million pages.