Ah, our lovely host university, King’s College. Their library’s a lot of fun. Well, the Maughan Library is, they’ve got others that I can only assume are also fun.
For starters, it’s huge. it serves 25-30,000 students (which is fairly close to my current institution), depending on the term, and 11,000 study spaces spread over the various campuses. The building it’s in was designed to be the National Archives for the UK; when they outgrew the space, King’s College bought it and began the lengthy (and probably very frustrating) project of setting it up as a university library with reasonable accessibility accommodations. One room was kept as it once was, for historical purposes, and it’s not even been used to house books at the moment. I find that somewhat surprising, and I’m guessing that they may at some point use it for books- there’s a lot of space in that room, and using it to house books shouldn’t detract from keeping the room as it was for historical purposes. It couldn’t be used for public access- there’s no way it’d be compliant with disability regulations- but for staff-only storage it might work. (I say as if I know anything about the regulations regarding historical buildings in England. Hah.)
Although not nearly as bad as Oxford, King’s College is everywhere and nowhere- the campus seems a bit spread over several locations in London. This makes a great deal of sense- neighboring real estate is seldom available when an institution wants to expand, so facilities are purchased when and where resources allow. I’m betting similar things happen in major US cities, but it’s just not something I, personally, see very often.
After the tour, we hit the Foyle Special Collections library, where they showed us some of their treasures. the prettiest binding was the Nuremberg Chronicle.
Antique bindings fascinate me. I swear sometimes I missed my calling regarding books- I would dearly love to take classes in conservation. Hands-on type classes, with leather and linen and a laying press… but I digress.
Beautiful as the binding was, the content… was incomprehensible to me, being in German. The prize for most interesting that I could read? That went to the first history of the Bethlem Royal Hospital for the treatment of mental illness.
I know just enough psychology to know that Bethlem, in the early days, was a textbook case of “what not to do” with the mentally ill- and makes me very, very glad that I did not live in Victorian times with a mental illness.