13 May 2012

The London Library - if Carlsberg did libraries....

Founded in 1841 by Victorian writer and historian Thomas Carlyle, this gem of a library boasts a distinguished list of members and patrons that includes Thackeray, Dickens, Darwin, Gladstone, Kipling, Churchill, T S Eliot and current president Tom Stoppard. It started with 2,500 books, and in 1845 moved to the site it still occupies, in the north-west corner of St James’s Square, tucked behind expensive tailors, expensive restaurants and discreet watering holes of the London splasherati..

Yes, lies behind this simple door in St James’s Square.

I was quite overwhelmed the first time I visited The London Library as a member few years ago. I felt humbled by the store of knowledge I was about to be trusted to borrow from. The list of past and current members is also pretty humbling! I twice got lost in the basement and felt too foolish to ask anyone where anything was. I felt as if I had been transported back to my first day at Primary School – “Is the world really this big and I so small?”

The London Library is proud to be a Library. It is not a Learning Resource, Discovery, Information, Multimedia or any other variety of Data Centre. It is a Library, pure and simple, full of books, over a million of them, on fifteen miles of shelving. Not Kindle editions, not audio books, not CDs and DVDs but proper real books.

The collections cover a broad spectrum of subjects, with a particular focus on humanities, and browsing the million volumes  of open-access shelves can unearth such  sections as imaginary history, foreign impressions of England, old children's stories, dreams and duelling.

Oh almost forgot! They let you borrow their books. You don’t have to sit in an archive wearing silly cotton gloves, unable to smoke and reduced to using a pencil, you can take almost all of the books home and read them at your convenience. You can keep renewing them as long as you like or until another member requests the book you are reading..

Of course there is a small catch. Unlike most other libraries you do need to pay to join. Full membership is now £36.25 per month (but that is not so bad when you consider that a mind-numbing full Sky TV package is around £50-£60 per month). There are also reduced rates available. You can see their full list of membership benefits and packages here

I have aspired to be a member since 2001, my only regret of not joining is that I didn’t do so much sooner. I would urge any book lover not to procrastinate as I have done....

London Spa Girl x

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