British Library North: Why the world's largest library could be coming to Leeds

The British Library's newspaper storage site at Boston Spa
The British Library's newspaper storage site at Boston Spa
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The British Library has identified Leeds as a potential location for a major new northern outpost.

The world's largest library wants to open a regional branch that would give members of the public access to some of the 200 million catalogued items it holds.

A copy of every newspaper published in the UK is kept in the Boston Spa storage facility

A copy of every newspaper published in the UK is kept in the Boston Spa storage facility

"You can smell the old papers": Inside the vast newspaper archives at Boston Spa

The main site occupies a Grade I-listed building between Euston and St Pancras stations in London, while there is a second facility in Boston Spa, near Wetherby, that is used to store documents and houses some of the British Newspaper Archive.

The Guardian newspaper obtained the minutes of a meeting between the British Library and Leeds City Council in which the plans were discussed back in May 2018.

There is already an ongoing £250,000 investment project to upgrade the reading rooms at Boston Spa, which are open to the public.

The British Library told the newspaper that their primary focus was on the Boston Spa Renewed scheme, but that they were also seeking to 'embed' their presence in Yorkshire.

They plan to become involved in the Leeds 2023 cultural initiative, and appeared to suggest that British Library North would not open until after the festival had concluded in four years' time.

Leeds City Council were unable to comment on potential locations for the outpost, and it is unclear whether the facility would require a purpose-built structure.

Council leader Coun Judith Blake said:

“Leeds has ambitious plans for making the most of our cultural strengths as we work with partners towards 2023. We are delighted to have a strong relationship with the British Library, with their presence playing an important part in the Leeds cultural, digital and economic landscape, and we look forward to working them in the years ahead, as one of a wide range of organisations who see the opportunities available here, from Channel 4 to Burberry.

“Part of our aim is for national cultural institutions to recognise the city as a base to increase access for people across the North to assets which might otherwise remain unseen or unavailable.”

What is the British Library and what material does it hold?

- It's the largest library collection in the world, containing over 200 million items across a range of mediums

- It is the nation's foremost legal deposit library, meaning it receives a copy of every work published in the UK - around 8,000 items per day

- It holds 14 million books and historical manuscripts that date back as far as 2,000 BC

- The Library adds three million new items every year covering 9.6 kilometres of new shelf space. There is space in the London building for over 1,200 readers

- Most of the historic material was donated in the 18th century, and collections were housed in the British Museum prior to the 1970s

- Low-use items were moved to a new storage facility at Boston Spa between 2009 and 2012. The old newspaper storage library at Colindale in north London was closed in 2013 and its collections split between St Pancras and Boston Spa. Around 70 per cent of the material held by the British Library is now kept at Boston Spa

- Boston Spa's storage facility has capacity for seven million items, stored in more than 140,000 bar-coded containers which are retrieved by robots

- The British Library holds a copy of almost every British newspaper published since 1840 - its collection of national and London titles goes back as far as 1801

- The 40-acre Boston Spa facility was built on the site of a WW2 armaments factory at Thorp Arch industrial estate. It has 700 staff and receives 1,200 new newspapers each week.