Poetry in motion heralds the new British Library

Click to follow
The Independent Online
The British Library took delivery of the first of 12 million books and journals for its new St Pancras building yesterday in what has been dubbed the biggest book move in history.

Fourteen years after construction work started at its new London headquarters, the first volume to be ceremonially placed on its 186 miles of shelving was The Oxford Book of English Traditional Verse.

The collection to be moved totals almost 40 million patents, eight million stamps, two million maps and more than 1 million sound recordings.

It will take more than 275,000 people-hours - equivalent to more than three working lifetimes - and 5,600 van loads to move them. The saga of the construction of the new building reached Kafkaesque proportions recently when it emerged it had cost pounds 511m, three times initial estimates, and would be completed nine years later than expected due to contractual disputes and faulty workmanship.

The Prince of Wales unkindly described the building as "a dim collection of sheds groping for some symbolic significance", while the Heritage Select Committee thought it more like "a Babylonian ziggurat seen through a fun-fair distorting mirror".

But yesterday the playwright Harold Pinter was kinder. He said it was "wonderful", and his wife, the historian Lady Antonia Fraser, applauded "a great national monument". The building opens fully in June 1999, 21 years after it was approved by the Callaghan government.