Exquisite books and manuscripts should stay put, say peers

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A GROUP of peers and leading arts figures is fighting to prevent a collection of early printed books and manuscripts bequeathed to the British Library by George IV being moved to the new St Pancras building, writes Clare Garner.

Since 1829, the collection has been housed in the King's Library, a magnificent room specifically designed for that purpose by Sir Robert Smirke. Resplendent with brass railings, glazed bookcases and oak flooring inlaid with mahogany, the 300ft gallery is considered to be one of the finest library rooms in the world.

The King's Library comprises 65,250 books and 20,000 pamphlets, as well as more than 400 manuscripts and one of the world's earliest collections of maps, globes and fossils. The British Library is intent on removing the collection from its original home. It has already shifted one tenth of the collection to St Pancras and plans to complete the transfer by 3 April.

A statement from the British Library insists the transfer is "in accordance with the terms of the gift". The statement continues: "In the new building, the King's Library will be housed in the best possible conditions for its preservation and use."

However, campaigners feel that the glass tower in which the books are soon to be housed will not do the collection justice and are pressing for a debate in parliament. Lord Norwich, a broadcaster and author, said yesterday: "The King's Library is an extraordinary building and an extraordinary institution. Two things which were made for each other will be separated. That is always very sad."

George Sayn, who organises exhibitions on architecture and urban planning and is co-ordinating the campaign, said: "We don't just dismantle our history every 200 years just because a new building comes along. Furthermore, we now live in the age of computers. People can easily find out if a book's in the British Museum [where the King's Library is situated] and go there."