Saturday, 2 October 2010

Library of the month: London Library

Founded in 1841 the London Library is the world's largest private library, with something like a million volumes on the shelves all of which can be borrowed by members. After all the library was established by Thomas Carlyle when he was banned from borrowing books from the British Museum. I joined about ten years when the place was comfortably shabby. In recent years the Library has been transformed as the result of a multi-million pound rebuilding project, which has seen expansion into a building at the back and a revamp of the public area. The new bits resemble some achingly hip boutique hotel you might read about in the Sunday supplements, but the old stacks largely remain unchanged since they were erected in the 1890s (you still might get a slight electric shock when you pull one of the light switches). One of the great joys of the place is the unique cataloguing system, particularly in "Science and Miscellaneous" with shelfmarks for topics as varied as "S.Dreams" and "S.Devil etc". It works very well, although it can be hard to find books in some of the larger shelfmarks, such as "H. European War 1". There are some nice reading areas - I particularly like the Lightwell reading room in the basement, which seems particularly popular with balding young men finishing off their first bestseller. You would expect the place to be a major site for celeb spotting, but most authors are fairly anonymous looking even if they are household names, although I have spotted Alan Bennett and Edna O'Brien taking out books, and a friend of mine once saw Peter Mandelson. All in all the London LIbrary is a great place and I have spent many happy hours there. Find out more at www.londonlibrary.co.uk   

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