The National Libraries Committee, chaired by Frederick Sydney Dainton – who later became, and is now remembered as, Lord Dainton – issued a report in 1969 that led to the establishment of The British Library. In 1971, this report was followed by a White Paper that called for the establishment of a national library in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to be called The British Library.
In 1972, Parliament passed The British Library Act, which created The British Library. This law authorized the merger, effective on July 1, 1973, of The British Museum’s library departments, including the National Reference Library of Science and Invention (formerly the Patent Office Library); with the National Central Library; and the National Lending Library for Science and Technology.
The Patent Office library opened in 1855. Its origins lay in the Patent Law Amendment Act of 1851 which required “true copies of all specifications to be open to the inspection of the public at the office of the commissioners.”
For the remainder of the 19th Century, the Patent Office library was housed in cramped accommodations. In 1902, a purpose-built library building opened in Southampton Buildings off Chancery Lane.
The Scottish architect Sir John Taylor (1832-1912) who designed a number of public buildings in Victorian London, designed the Patent Office Library as a galleria. As with The British Museum Library, despite new premises, the Patent Office Library soon suffered severe shortage of space.
The Second World War and subsequent onset of the Cold War highlighted the need for a comprehensive scientific and technological network in the United Kingdom, specifically for a national library of science and technology. In the late 1940s and ‘50s there was considerable debate among scientists whether the collections of the libraries of The British Museum or the Patent Office should serve as the nucleus of a national library of science and technology.
The debate was resolved in 1959 when a Working Party on the issue recommended that the proposed national library should be based on the collections of both libraries and put under the control of the Museum Trustees. The National Reference Library of Science and Invention, founded in 1962, was administered by The British Museum Library.
Founded in 1916 as the Central Library for Students with grants from the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust, the original purpose of the National Central Library was to lend books to adult students who had no other sources for borrowing. Eleven years later, the Kenyon Committee on Public Libraries envisaged it developing as the central clearing-house of a British inter-library network under the aegis of The British Museum.
However, the Royal Commission on National Museums and Galleries subsequently recommended that the Central Library for Students should have independent status. In 1931, under a new Royal Charter it became the National Central Library (N.C.L.), which was to be the official clearing-house for inter-library lending. It was to provide a bibliographic service as well as continuing its original role in servicing adult classes. In 1966, the N.C.L. moved to a new building in Store Street near The British Museum Library.
In 1973, the N.C.L. amalgamated with the National Lending Library for Science and Technology (N.L.L.S.T.), which was the center (or “centre” as it is spelt in the U.K.) for interlibrary lending, and was located, since 1961, at Boston Spa in Yorkshire. The amalgamated library was known as The British Library, Lending Division (B.L.L.D.).
The function of the Lending Division was to support the library systems of the U.K. by providing a loan and photocopy service to other libraries throughout Great Britain. The N.L.L.S.T. had a staff of 120 and a stock specialized in science and technology.
It contained 25,000 monographs and subscriptions to 1,200 serials. Around 600 tons of the N.C.L. stock, which specialized in humanities and social sciences, was transferred to Yorkshire during The British Library’s first year of formation. The semi-rural site at Boston Spa occupies approximately sixty acres of an ex-munitions factory and is well served by road links for easy distribution.
In the 1970s, the range of services expanded and made available to customers in foreign countries. The use of technology became an integral part of the Lending Division’s function. The British Library stated, “The use of Automated Requesting grew by about 40% in this time and the Lending Division often acted in collaboration with academic and scientific partners in early days of exploring the future of fax transmission and satellite communications.”
In 1985, the name changed from The British Library Lending Division to the British Library Document Supply Centre. This reflected the changing emphasis of document supply in which a greater proportion of requests were for copies of articles rather than loans.
The stock has grown over the years and now contains over 260,000 journal titles, over 3,000,000 books, almost 500,000 conference proceedings, and almost 5,000,000 reports, mostly of a scientific nature. Current business from document supply totals about 4,000,000 requests per year from 20,000 customers worldwide.
In 2001, the 100 millionth request was received. Services are now provided not just to the traditional customer base of U.K. and international librarians and information professionals, but also to commercial and business users and individual researchers.
In 1973, the map departments of The British Museum merged as the Map Library and transferred to The British Library. The next year, The British Library absorbed the British National Bibliography and the Office for Scientific and Technical Information. The British Library went on to absorb the India Office Library and Records in 1982 and the British Institute of Recorded Sound in 1983.
From 1979 to 1985, Sir Frederick Sydney Dainton, as he then was known, served as Chairman of the British Library Board. It was he who convinced Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher that The British Library needed a building of its own. Sir Colin Alexander St John (“Sandy”) Wilson (1922-2007) designed The British Library building.
The King’s Library, which, as I mentioned in Part IV, had been amassed by King George III (and should not be confused with the Old Royal Library), and donated to The British Museum by King George IV in 1823, is now housed in the six-story King’s Library Tower. Wilson designed The King’s Library Tower, which also houses the Greenville Collection.
The British Library stated, “Many of the books are on view to visitors behind UV-filter glass which, together with the environmental control system, helps maintain appropriate light, temperature and humidity levels. Behind the moveable bookcases containing George III’s books, there is in fact another row of shelves containing a similar collection formed by Thomas Grenville (1755-1846)… The King’s Library remains a working library, and throughout the day volumes are retrieved for readers working in the Rare Books and Music Reading Room.”
Wilson commissioned the Italian-Scottish sculptor Sir Eduardo Luigi Paolozzi (1924-2005) to produce the bronze sculpture Newton After Blake (1995), which sits in the concourse. He was inspired by William Blake’s 1795 print that illustrated how Sir Isaac Newton’s equations changed the way humanity views the universe to being governed by mathematical laws we can discern.
 Sir Frederick Sydney Dainton (1914-1997), Baron Dainton, F.R.S. was a famous chemist and academic administrator. He served as Professor of Physical Chemistry at the University of Leeds from 1950 to 1965, during which time he became a Fellow of the Royal Society; Professor of Chemistry at the University of Oxford from 1970 to 1973; Vice Chancellor of the University of Nottingham from 1965 to 1970; and Chancellor at The University of Sheffield from 1978 to 1997. Queen Elizabeth II knighted him in 1971. He became, in 1973, Chairman of the University Grants Committee, in which post he pushed back declining government grants for universities. From 1979 to 1985, he served as Chairman of the British Library Board and as Chairman of the National Radiological Protection Board. Queen Elizabeth II granted him a life peerage as Baron Dainton of Hallam Moors in 1986 and he entered the House of Lords. The Dainton Papers are at The University of Sheffield.
 Knighted in 1897, Sir John Taylor served as Consulting Architect at Her Majesty’s Office of Works in London (later known as the Ministry of Works, Department of the Environment and now known as the Property Services Agency) from 1898 to 1908. Born at Warkworth, Northumberland, he began his career in the service of the Duke of Northumberland. He had served as Assistant Surveyor at H.M. Office of Works from 1859 to 1866. His portfolio had included royal palaces, public buildings, and royal parks. From 1866 to 1898, he served as Surveyor.