The British Library has been given Grade 1 listed status by the Heritage Minister, with seven other libraries awarded Grade II status.
The library, on Euston Road in London and originally designed by architect Sir Colin St John Wilson and his partner MJ Long between 1982 and 1999, was the largest UK public building to be built in the 20th century.
The government described the building’s architecture as both “immense and extraordinary”. Surrounded on both sides by 11 reading rooms, the library’s centrepiece is the King’s Library tower, home to the library of George III as well as the Treasures Gallery that hold national treasures such as Magna Carta, Lindisfarne Gospels and original Beatles lyrics.
Heritage Minister Tracey Crouch said: “The British Library divided opinion from the moment its design was revealed, but I am glad that expert advice now allows me to list it, ensuring that its iconic design is protected for future generations to enjoy.”
Chief executive of the British Library, Roly Keating, said: “We are delighted that Colin St John Wilson’s courageous and visionary design for the British Library’s London building has been recognised by a listing at the highest level. Even in the relatively short period since its opening it has worked its way into the affections of millions of visitors and researchers, who have discovered its beautiful spaces, subtle use of natural light and exquisite detailing.
“It is also a privilege to be listed alongside a group of distinguished public library buildings from across the country. As well as celebrating architectural excellence, this listing is a reminder, in the midst of the digital age, of the vital importance of libraries as physical spaces of the highest quality at the heart of their communities.”
The seven libraries awarded Grade II status are Suffolk Record Office in Suffolk, Bebington Central Library in The Wirral, Milton Keynes Central Library in Milton Keynes, Chandler’s Ford Library in Eastleigh, West Sussex Library in West Sussex, Bourne Hall Library & Social Centre in Epsom, and Lillington Library in Leamington Spa.
Crouch said: “Libraries are the cornerstones of the communities they serve. They act as meeting places, provide areas to learn and are a credit to the volunteers at the heart and soul of the service. Many of these libraries have stood proudly in their communities for more than 50 years and I am thrilled that these institutions can be admired for many years to come.”
Director of listing at Historic England, Roger Bowdler, said: “The British Library is one of England’s finest modern public buildings. Listing it at Grade I acknowledges its outstanding architectural and historic interest. Colin St John Wilson’s stately yet accessible design incorporates fine materials and a generous display of public art. The library’s dramatic and carefully considered interiors achieve its ultimate goal: of creating a space to inspire thought and learning."
Grade 1 listed buildings are of exceptional interest, and just 2.5% of listed buildings are afforded the status.
Photo: Tony Antoniou