Tuesday, 13 July 2010

London Library

The London Library is an independent arts and humanities library that dates from 1841.  It is the largest independent library in the world, and patrons pay a yearly fee to use the collection and resources.  Membership offers "affordable sustenance for the mind and the soul" and "stacks of inspiration".  Recently they have experienced a major renovation that increased their space by 30% and will allow for considerable growth for roughly the next 25 years.  This library has a wealth of history and key literary figures like Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, and T.S Eliot to name a few, have used this library for research. 

An interesting note is that they do not weed anything unless it is a duplicate.  The historical provenance of an item is what makes the collection so special and comprehensive.  Items are cataloged by subject to allow for easy browsing.  This also gives readers the full range of a subject by grouping old and new items together, as well as items in other languages. Items are loaned out for as long as needed, provided no other patron is waiting for it.  There are no late fees and items can also be mailed anywhere in Europe for just the cost of postage.  Collections include some rare items dating from the 16th century and span over 50 languages.  Roughly 8,000 items are added the collection yearly.  Some quick facts: there are over one million books, in two thousand subjects and over 850 current periodicals.  Browse the open stacks and take advantage of the serendipity of this arrangement.  Subjects range from children's books, anecdotes, art, biographical collections, bibliographies, fiction, history, genealogy & heraldry, guide books, law, literature, religion, science & miscellaneous, societies and topography.  Don't want to join as a yearly member?  Temporary day passes are only £10 and weekly is only £30. 

The Times Room

It was very interesting to visit a library of this type, I have never experienced a subscription library before.  Librarians here offer the highest lever of service to their patrons and guide readers on how to use the multiple reading rooms and services.  The building was interesting in that it was an old townhouse, converted and now with other buildings added on to easily merge the collections.  It was one of the first steel structures to be built in London, and you can still see the steel grates today. Don't drop a book through the slits!

The Art Room collection

The conservation studio was the most interesting part of the tour.  The librarian had photos of the collection prior to her adding her expertise...it was a bit disorganized to say the least.  Entire collections were reorganized and items were arranged in a more suitable style for patrons as well as preservation. This involved moving over 14 kilometers of books, shelves, binding books, training staff in proper handling and basic conservation as well as categorizing books that are not able to be sent out in the post. 

Visit http://www.londonlibrary.co.uk/ to check out their services and apply for membership.  The Electronic library is only available to members.

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