Living Knowledge blog

16 August 2016

Work experience at the Library – more than meets the eye

When applying for a week’s work experience at the British Library, I didn’t know what to expect; anxiously walking into the staff entrance, I came only with a conventional expectation that I would stack bookshelves, make tea and encourage silence. However, my expectations were far from reality, and I immediately realised upon entering the Press Office - my first look into the inner workings of the largest library in the world - that there is far more to the British Library than meets the unassuming eye.

Gates shot

What struck me first were the welcoming atmosphere and the friendliness of the staff. In the past, I had associated work experience with a feeling of intrusion; however this notion was quickly dispelled when I was met with genuine warmth, interest and kindness from everyone in the office. Despite depleted numbers due to the summer holidays, there was a real enthusiastic buzz, and everyone happily welcomed me with open arms into their team for the week. From the outset, I felt comfortable, respected and useful in this intriguing and historic sanctuary.

A great encouragement for me was the excited enthusiasm I was surrounded by when I said I wished to study English Literature at University; a prospect sometimes looked upon with cynicism by academic institutes. Although the Library was far from just a place for English students – a diversity I witnessed upon a meeting with a biochemist and discussions with businesswomen – I felt a real sense of belonging, and support for my aspirations.

Initially, I was nervous I was going to interfere with real progress and work being organised by the Library. Yet, to my delight, not only was I provided with engaging and fulfilling work to do, but I was actively involved and invited to a varied assortment of meetings, photo shoots, discussions and even filming. The immense diversity of events and topics I was lucky enough to witness was unexpected and awe-inspiring, opening my eyes to aspects of the British Library I had never even considered before. For instance, I was allowed to see the conservation area, as well as some beautiful artefacts, where people dedicate hours of hard work and concentration into preserving the Library’s most important books and heritage. Yet I also sat in meetings which discussed fascinating future exhibitions and panel talks, as well as the filming of TV Series which will go on to inspire and inform future generations. In essence, my work experience enabled me to see the historic foundations and present workings that make the Library the institution it is, whilst involving me in the new, exciting events to be held in the future.

The piazza was also a surprising highlight of the library, providing a calm and relaxed space away from the busy hustle of London. Eating lunch while reading a good book as the sun radiates down on you is a small luxury you wouldn’t expect from your standard lunch break!


In all, my work experience at the British Library has been a fascinating adventure, from the most unexpected of insights to the intricacies of Library upkeep. My perspective of the institution as merely a residence for books has been completely turned on its head, as I was shown the businesses, tours, events, exhibitions, open days, research developments and amazing opportunities organised and promoted by the British Library and all who work there.

I am beyond grateful for the literary dream I was immersed in for this past week. I would highly recommend the placement to anyone who wants to gain valuable experience of the workplace, and within the walls of an institution that boasts far more than the content of its shelves.

Eleanor-Rose Gordon

Work experience student