The secret doors of the British Library

BL DoorsBefore you get too excited, this is not a post about our collection of ‘naughty’ books. I have been at the library for seven years now and have yet to discover where they are located (not that I have been looking you understand).

This is about a secret contained within – not behind the doors of the British Library. At the entrance to each of the seven reading rooms in the St Pancras building stand pairs of impressively large wooden doors.

Colin St John Wilson who made the architecturally controversial building his life’s work, demanded only the best materials for the fixtures and fittings. Consequently the sheer weight of the Canadian oak that these impressive doors were constructed from, meant they could not be opened by ordinary mortals. This created something of a dilemma as the opening of the building  approached. I’m afraid I can’t prevent images entering my mind of stereotypically puny academics and weedy librarians breaking into a sweat, as they struggled with these mighty doors in vain.

To address this actually rather serious accessibility issue, building engineers came up with an ingenious and virtually invisible mechanical solution to the problem.

A small copper wire is curled in a spiral around each door handle. When grasped by a visitor the natural electrical charge within their body triggers a switch which is located in the door hinges. This powers an electric motor to push the door open. However this action is silent and so subtle that almost no one notices the assistance they are being given by the mechanism.

As a fan of ergonomic design and Cyborg Anthropology, I am impressed by this clever solution.

So the next time you encounter one of these magical doors, I suggest you touch the handle and stand back to give yourself time to admire this technological marvel of the British Library.

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