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  • Writer's pictureTenley Sablatzky

Beautiful Chaos - The British Museum Reading Room

Inside the British Museum Foyer

Yeah, that's actual place... that I went to. Specifically, today we went to the British Museum. In addition to seeing many of their public exhibits, we also got a private tour of their reading room built in the 1850's. Not many people get access to it, but walking in was absolutely - and I swear I've never used this description before - breathtaking.

Most of what's in the reading room currently is from the private collection of Hans Sloan, and most of it the archivists are still trying to sort through and catalog. A lot of this has to do with lack of funding, and the fact that there's only two people trained to help with the project (and some volunteers). I related to this struggle because back home I volunteer in a small museum library and most of their collection is also uncatalogued and unsorted. Like the British Museum, there's relatively few volunteers where I work as well (three, at the moment). Though our collection is obviously much, much smaller than the British Museum's it's generally the same struggle of trying to find funding for museums and archives.

The other interesting thing I learned today was that the original ceiling of the reading room is paper mache... not ideal for a room filled with valuable books. When someone asked about a tarp hanging over one of the shelves on the second floor, the archivist we spoke with explained that they occasionally have problems with water damage in this room. This is the kind of behind the scene, collections maintenance that most people, including myself, don't think about unless you personally have to deal with it. Up close and personal, the British Museums Reading Room is beautiful chaos. It's filled with so much history and fantastic documents and books, but it needs a lot of work. Hopefully, the museum can provide the resources to do so someday...

King George's Library Exhibit

I'll leave you with this poem I stumbled across when searching for more information about the Reading Room.

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