The London Library is located in Saint James Square. It is a private research library with lending services that receives no public funding or grant money. The Deputy Librarian, Jane Oldfield, greeted us at the intake desk. She led us up three flights of stairs to a meeting room. Once there we met the Head of Reader Services, Helen O’Neill. She gave a wonderful presentation on the history of the library, including current renovations. In 1841, Thomas Carlyle, one of the founding members, got fed up with the British Museum’s Library because they didn’t lend out their collection. In response he and a few others set up the private London Library as a lending library. This library predates the Public Library Act. Its collection is predominantly in the Arts and Humanities. However, they do hold the original Darwin’s Origin of Species.
Currently there are an estimated seven thousand members, including corporations. The entire operation is financially dependent on user subscriptions, fundraising, and people leaving money to the library in their wills.
Some examples of former members are Virginia Woolf, who first joined at twenty-two years old, and T.S. Eliot, who was not only a member, but the president of the library from 1952 to 1964.
There are fifty languages, mostly European languages, found in the collection. All of the books are arranged by subject and size, and there is open access browsing. Eight thousand new books are added to the collection each year. There is no ascension policy, and there aren’t any desk jackets. There is an in house conservator so they bind most of their books, however they also send items out for binding. Because there is no ascension there is a greater scope regarding the subject matter revealed in the collection.
One member referred to the London Library as…”the gentleperson’s Google.” John McNally.
The annual budget for acquisitions is about $446,276 (or 282,000 pounds). One third of that is spent on periodicals. Many books are donated, some of which are not kept and are included in the Friends of the Library book sales. Some members leave books to the library when they die. Also, the library has special arrangements with some publishers who give books to the library free of charge.
Sixty percent of the collection is available on the open access online catalog. Most everything in the collection can be checked out unless it is of high monetary value or in a fragile state.
The only part of the collection that has been digitized is the art prints.
There are four reading rooms: the Victorian Reading Room, the Lightwell Reading Room, the 1930s styled reading room where laptops can be used, and the Prevost Reading room.
My overall impression of the library is that it would be a wonderful place to spend many hours reading for research or simply for pleasure.