Librarian- Jane Oldfield, Head Librarian- Inez Lynn
The London Library first opened its doors in 1841, since this time, the library has amassed around one million books. In other words, about 15 miles of shelving. The libraries main focus is on Humanities and Arts, but they do have a great deal of books on other subjects. It is the largest independent lending library in the world. This basically means that members have to pay to use the library and its services. Because of the libraries extensive resources, it has always had a few famous members. Past members include Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, Henry James, Winston Churchill (he also served as President of the library for a time), T.S. Eliot and Agatha Christie. On our tour we were told that there are a few famous celebrities that are current members, including Robert Pattinson and Hugh Jackson.
There are currently about 8,000 members, this number includes both private members corporate bodies. Because the library’s budget is completely dependent on member fees and donations, they are very responsive to their members. Membership is open to all who can afford to pay the fees, although they do offer reduced fees to those that need it. They have a very generous return policy; there are no late fees.
Since its opening in the 1800s, London Library has gone through quite a few makeovers. These changes are evident in the building as all of the sections look very different. The art room has a very modern feel with glass balconies, but the literature section is dark with a steel floor. This floor is quite spooky to walk on at first, you can see through holes in the material, which gives you a view of floors above and below you.
The collections housed in the London Library include books written in over 50 languages. All of these books are shelved together by subject. One unique thing about London Library (its only unique to the UK, its normal practice in the US) is the ability of the members to wander the stacks and pick out their own books. Most the libraries here have patrons fill out cards with the names of the books they want and a librarian goes and retrieves them from stacks. At London Library, members have access to all of the books and periodicals the library owns. But, first the members have to figure out how the books are catalogued and organized. The catalogue at London Library is unique to the library and is based on subject, within each subject; titles are alphabetically organized by author.
I found the set up of the library to be very interesting. Before this visit, I had not been to a library that charged its members. But, if I had the money and lived in this city, I would probably join.