Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The London Library

Imagine a library whose list of patrons read like a Who's Who of Literature, which appears small from the outside but is really several buildings put together, and where 97% of all the books in the collection may be checked out and taken home. That library is the London Library, the largest independent lending library in the world.
The London Library is a subscription-based lending library which was founded by Thomas Carlyle in 1841. Carlyle loved libraries but wanted to be able to take library books home to read, which was not allowed in the libraries available at the time, so Carlyle decided to start his own lending library with help from a few friends, such as Charles Dickens. The library retains that policy, and almost every single book it owns is available to be checked out. What's on the shelves? Almost anything published after 1700. Items published before 1700 are kept in a seperate area for better preservation conditions, but most are still available to patrons-- "We're not a museum." There is also no limit to how long a book may be lent, as long as it is not needed by another patron. The London Library has its own classification system, by topic and by size.  It is very much loved by its readers, who tend to bequeath their own amazing literary collections to the library. The library's building has plenty of quirks, having a floor plan lovingly described as "labyrinthine," floors which can be seen through down several levels, and lights which are often left off when unused that it has often been admitted that "You can't be afraid of heights or the dark" if you are to use it. All the same, these eccentricites are often touted as "Half the fun!" of using the London Library. There's a multicultural feel in the stacks, as all 50 languages represented reside side by side with their English counterparts. Former members include Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, George Bernard Shaw, T.S. Eliot, Arthur Conan Doyle...The list continues farther than this blog may go. The library owns copies of every single issue that The Times has printed, and continues to collect hardcopies while now collecting the digital copies as well. The online catalogue includes everything post-1950, and more of the materials are being added daily.
Image courtesy of Microsoft Clipart.

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