Monday, August 8, 2011
The London Library (a labyrinthine library if there ever was one!) was founded in 1841, before the public library act. The focus is on lending, despite the age and rarity of items. The collection’s strengths lie in Arts and Humanities and Science and Miscellaneous (I love their labeling system!). The library grew rapidly and is now the largest independent library in the world. This means that member subscriptions and donations are what primarily fund the library. The library has some famous early members: George Eliot, Charles Dickens, Agatha Christie, TS Eliot, and Winston Churchill, to name a few. Today, the library boasts around 7,000 members, including private members and corporate/ public companies. One of the best things about the library is the variety of the collection. With over 1 million books and 15 miles of shelving, the library is bound to have great variety. With open-access browsing, 97 percent of the collection is available for loan. That means, the books in the collection that are in different languages, books from the 17th century to present day, and books covering arts, humanities, history, literature, biography, topography, science, and religion, are all available to browse and check out.
Membership is open to all, although rather expensive for the average public library-goer. However, the variety of the collection is phenomenal.
The London Library saw great changes since its creation, including a new subject arrangement system, installation of 7 levels of grilled metal floors, new buildings to house the growing collection, an issue hall, and a conservation studio. The buildings are large and even a detailed map could not fully convey the scale of the library, especially from the unassuming exterior entrance. The library has an issue hall with member services, reading rooms, art room, periodicals section, and level upon level of shelving for the collection. Also, the library has little to no security and each member is trusted to take care of the books that they check out and return to the library. The library does deal with rare books and has a conservation team, naturally, they repair books so that they are usable to the members, in only rare occasions are books taken from the shelves and kept locked away for safe keeping.
Overall, the London Library has the feel of a small library where you can wander the stacks for hours and never feel rushed or pressured to get the book and leave. The subject organization is fantastic and one of the easiest systems I’ve seen in a library ever. I wish all libraries could have the same feel as the London Library. Plus, Hugh Grant is a member! :)