The largest library on earth is likely Google books or something online, but when it comes to traditional libraries with paper books, the largest in the British Library. Some claim the Library of Congress as being larger, but according to at least some of the metrics used, the largest is the British Library.

The British Library is a national library of the United Kingdom and receives copies of all books published in the United Kingdom and Ireland as legal deposits - plus many overseas books that are distributed in the UK. While in Europe, pop into the National Library of France - another massive library for book lovers with around 40 million items in its collection.


The British Library and Library of Congress - The Two Giants

The Library of Congress is massive as well, but the British Library seems to have the edge - even if the Library of Congress has a much larger budget and a larger staff. Both of these libraries have a huge amount of visitors the Library of Congress is slightly ahead with some 1.9 million annual visitors to the British Library's 1.7 million annual visitors.

  • British Library Items: 170-200 Million (170 Million Per Their Website)
  • Library of Congress Items: 171 Million
  • British Library Staff: Around 2,000
  • Library of Congress Staff: Around 3,200

The Library of Congress got off to a bit of a rocky start with most of the original collection being burnt by the British in the War of 1812. Afterward, the library brought Thomas Jefferson's entire personal collection of some 6,487 books.

In the past, the Library was part of the British Museum but was spun off in 1973. The British Museum is also one of the greatest museums in the world with some of the world's most priceless artifacts - like the famed Rosetta Stone.

  • British Museum: Before 1973 The British Library Was Part of the British Museum

While both the British Museum and Library of Congress have 170 million or more items the next largest is much less. The Shanghai Library in China is third at 56 million and the New York Public Library is 4th at 55 million.

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All Manner of Literature and Ancient Literature

The British Library is one of the world's great research libraries and boasts collections in many languages and formats. Its collection includes both print and digital and is made up of books, manuscripts, journals, magazines, sound and music recordings, patents, maps, newspapers, drawings, and more. Some of their oldest manuscripts date back 4,000 years to around 2,000 BC.

  • Books: Around 14 Million Book
  • Oldest: The Oldest Manuscripts Date From around 2,000 BC

The collection continues to grow with the library adding a dizzying amount of content every year. Every year around 3 million items are added - enough to fill another 9.6 kilometers or 6 miles of new shelving space.

Visiting The British Library

Today the British Library is located in a purpose-built building in London with extra storage space in a building in West Yorkshire.

  • Metro: King's Cross St. Pancras, Euston and Euston Square
  • Address: British Library, 96 Euston Road, London

Opening Times For The Main Pancras Building:

  • Monday to Thursday: 9.30 am to 8.00 pm
  • Friday: 9.30 am to 6.00 pm
  • Saturday: 9.30 am to 5.00 pm
  • Sunday: 11.00 am to 5.00 pm

Note that the opening times for the galleries, reading rooms, shop, and catering within the building vary.

Boston Spa, Yorkshire Reading Room: 9.00 am to 4.30 pm

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Reading Rooms And Ordering Collection Items

The British Library is not one's typical local library, and they have 12 Reading Rooms in London and Yorkshire. In these rooms, visitors can enjoy their comfy seats, jump on the free Wi-Fi, and browse their mammoth collections - just no one is permitted to take items home with them.

Additionally, coats, jackets, bags, and laptop cases need to be left in the cloakroom or locker before entering the Reading Rooms. The temperatures in the Reading Rooms are kept low to protect the priceless collections and may feel a little cool. So bring a thermal or jumper - just nothing big and bulky like a winter coat or something.

  • Admission: Requires a Reader Pass (They are Free)
  • Tip: The Temperature is Kept A Little Low

If one would like to order from the collection items they can be ordered on the day and while one is in the Reading Room. Most of them will be delivered within 70 minutes, but they can take up to 48 hours.