Tucked away in St. James Square there is an innocuous looking little building, no different from most of the other White houses with black doors. If you look closure though you might notice the small sign above one of those doors that says "London Library". Librarians Helen O'Neil and Stella Worthington were kind enough to give us a tour.
Probably the most unique library that we've visited, the London Library is a private library, as in one where you have to purchase a private membership in order to take advantage of the resources offered by the library. The library was founded in 1841 by Thomas Carlyle, an author and 19th century philosopher who thought it would be a great idea to found a library where the books could be lent out. As such, the London Library is one of the first lending libraries in London. The library has had and continues to have an impressive list of celebrities and intellectuals as their members, including Tom Stoppard who is the current president of the library. As of now the library has 7,000 members and 150 corporate bodies who are members.
|London Library: Photo by Audrey Taylor|
The London Library has a number quirks that you wouldn't find in other libraries, the wrought iron floors are just one of them. From the top of the library you can see all the way down to the bottom. The holes in the floor are also large enough that every now and then a book takes a tumble all the way down to the bottom. Good thing that they have an in house conservation studio now for those little accidents. The library is like a labyrinth, one can walk around for hours without running into anyone in the numerous corridors.
The cataloging system is one of the libraries own creations and the subject headings have always retained a very 19th century sensibility. One of the notable examples was the fact that they never changed Yugoslavia's section, and so didn't have to change it back through the countries name change. The subject headings of the London library are exceedingly eccentric:
Cruelty to Animals
The above is just a small example. I personally could have spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the stacks investigating the sheer oddness of the system. It seems to work though, and no doubt adds to the charm of the library. I'd love to be a member, but I'm not sure that i have the cash to shell out for the fee, maybe someday.