“The British Library Facilities at Boston Spa,” by S.M. O’Connor

The British Library operates the world’s largest document-delivery service.  The British Library buildings at Boston Spa were originally designed as an ordinance factory.[1]  These British Library buildings were re-designed for “document delivery service processes.”  Over 100 kilometers of shelving house a collection devoted to interlibrary loans.  Researchers are welcome to read academic journals and monographs, as well as newspapers, in the reading room at Boston Spa.  The reading room at the Boston Spa Campus is called The British Library Reception and Reading Room.  It is not open on weekends, unlike the Reading Rooms at St. Pancras, which is open Mondays through Saturdays.  The Newspaper Archive can be used for free in The British Library’s Reading Rooms at St. Pancras and Boston Spa, whereas one must pay a fee to access The Newspaper Archive online.  In 2018, people made 418,000 visits to The British Library Reading Rooms at St. Pancras and Boston Spa.

From Central Library for Students to British Library Document Supply Centre

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 100,000,000th 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.

The storage void of the British Library National Newspaper Building at Boston Spa in West Yorkshire.jpg

Figure 1 Credit: The British Library Caption: This is the storage void of the British Library National Newspaper Building at Boston Spa in West Yorkshire.


Figure 2 Credit: The British Library Caption: This is The British Library’s Additional Storage Building at Boston Spa.


Figure 3 Credit: The British Library Caption: This is another exterior view of The British Library’s Additional Storage Building at Boston Spa.


Figure 4 Credit: The British Library Caption: This is an interior view of The British Library’s Additional Storage Building at Boston Spa.


Figure 5 Credit: The British Library Caption: This is a conveyor belt in The British Library’s Additional Storage Building at Boston Spa.

Many of the buildings on the Boston Spa Campus were built in 1942 during the Second Great World War as part of a Royal Ordinance Factory.   They were only intended to be temporary structures.  Consequently, they are aging poorly.  Temperature fluctuations, humidity, water ingress, and encapsulated asbestos pose a danger to the print collections.  On March 19, 2019, The British Library unveiled a plan called “Boston Spa Renewed,” which, if it can be carried out, will rectify these problems.

The British Library has six goals it hopes to achieve by implementing this plan.  Firstly, they hope to “increase the economic value delivered by the British Library.”  Secondly, they hope to “increase [The British Library’s] socio-economic in Northern England.”  Thirdly, they hope to “increase [The British Library’s] energy efficiency and reduce [it’s] carbon footprint.”  Fourthly, they hope to “provide access to new audiences beyond London.”  Fifthly, they hope to improve “the appeal of the Library as an employer of choice capable of attracting the (increasingly digital) skills necessary to manage complex collections.”  Sixthly, they hope to reflect “the desire to rebalance the UK economy by shifting investment in public bodies outside of London.”

The British Library intends to increase the amount of storage space, providing internationally recognized archival storage standards.  The expansion in storage capacity should meet The British Library’s needs through 2035.  The plan, if implemented, should ensure the security of the National Print Collections.  A new data center for digital collection management should be built.  There will be spaces for “small business incubation, start-ups, and scale-ups,” as well as expanded storage spaces for third party collections.  There will be expanded imaging studios.  The British Library will build “public areas reflecting the demands of our users for innovative, shared and inspiring spaces.”  It seeks “Enhanced availability of resources for researchers” and “Increased access to cultural heritage for a wider demographic.”  Areas seen exclusively or primarily by the Boston Spa workforce will also be improved in a number of ways.


[1] Boston Spa is a village two miles from Wetherby in West Yorkshire, England.  The largest city in West Yorkshire is Leeds.  In 1974, the historic West Riding of Yorkshire became a separate county under the Local Governments Act 1972.

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