A Library with a Future

T.G. Otte goes to the heart of Whitehall to explore the origins and future of an important government archive which is becoming far more accessible to historians.

Ever since the legendary burning of the ancient library of Alexandria, the notion of storing all available or all relevant knowledge in a single repository, has exercised a powerful hold on Western imagination. Libraries touch a raw nerve, all the more so since good news concerning them seems rare. In an age that places a premium on knowledge and information, books occupy a diminishing space. Libraries are haemorrhaging books by the skip-load. They face formidable challenges: lack of space; lack of funding. At the same time there is more information available in print and other formats than ever before. As Matthew Battle, Harvard’s librarian, concludes in his recent Library: An Unquiet History: ‘The library in the digital age is in a state of flux, which is indistinguishable from a state of crisis.’ Yet, it is possible to deal with such problems in an innovative way, as the transfer of the FCO Historical Library to King’s College London shows.

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