chapter  3
8 Pages

The British Library: A Response to a Set of Questions Put by the Organizers of the WESS Seminar

WithJ. Michael Smethurst

The British Library (BL) has always taken a wide view of collection development. Historically, the Library has its roots in the 1753 Act establishing the British Museum (BM). Its foundation collections were extraordinarily rich and varied, comprising as they did the Royal Libraries and the Grenville, Cotton, and Harleian libraries. The collections were brought together to create the first state public library in Britain, under the terms of an Act of Parliament which included the safe preservation of the collection “for the public use of all posterity.” Its legal deposit privilege came as an extension to the BM of the deposit privilege given to the Royal Library, and by the 1703 and subsequent Copyright Acts. The major donations in the 18th and 19th centuries reinforced its “encyclopaedic” view of collection development, and Panizzi, that prince of librarians, an Italian emigre, laid down principles of universality in the range of its collections during his long period of influence in the middle of the 19th century.