The British Library is the national reference library and archive of the United Kingdom. It houses 150 million items on 625 km of shelving: these are predominantly books, but there are also significant collections of newspapers and periodicals, maps, sound recordings, historically significant manuscripts and public records (including patents). The Library is currently housed close to St Pancras station, on Euston Road in London; there is also a branch newspaper library at Colindale.
Readers are allowed access based on claimed need, and are admitted to a number of Reading Rooms, where they can view materials both on the shelf and through over-the-counter requests. The Reading Rooms have around 400,000 visitors every year and have a capacity to hold 1,200 readers. Materials are stored in London and in the Document Supply Centre at Boston Spa in Yorkshire - the latter taking 48 hours to request. The Library also receives a copy of every book published in the UK, as required by the Copyright Act.
There has recently been some controversy regarding the change in admissions policy for Reader passes, which previously required a referee from a university, library or publishing company to permit access. This has now been changed so that almost anybody can get a Reader pass, which many say has led to an increase in use of the library by school and undergraduate university students who would be better served at a local, school or university library - and that younger library users cause considerable distraction to people with a more pressing need to use the facilities .
- Sarah Lyell, Relaxed admission brings chaos to the British Library, International Herald Tribune, 28 April, 2008