The London Library

I use the Library almost daily—it’s taken over as my main source of reference and become my main (and now much treasured) place of work. There I can write away in peace—the London Library places me in a convivial atmosphere on, one quietly buzzing with fellow writers. Benedict Allen

When I was in London last summer, I went to visit the London Library. It was something I had wanted to do for years, motivated largely by my dream of establishing a membership library myself one day.

The London Library is said to be the world’s largest independent lending library. It is also one of the most inviting, another way of saying it is a place of extraordinary warmth and beauty.

The library is located on St. James Square, an oasis from the crowded city dotted with shady trees, park benches beside its well-manicured laws, and walkways, all of which are surrounded by elegant townhouses.

The joy of the place is not only the books, however, but also the cast of characters. The dusty fellow next to you might be a proto-Nobel-winning author…and the almost certain knowledge that the person in the next carrel cares deeply about words and ideas, and best of all, has a book to tell you about, in a whisper. Orlando Whitfield

The library collection numbers over one million books plus more than 750 current periodicals and adds over 8,000 new books each year. Members also have remote electronic access to over 1,000 academic journals, as well as a wide collection of literary periodicals, newspapers, and magazines.

The library was founded in Thomas Carlyle in 1841 and its members have included Dickens, Tennyson, Virginia Woolf, Evelyn Waugh, George Bernard Shaw, etc. and T.S. Eliot who served as its President for many years. However, you don’t have to be a literary luminary to belong to the library, as membership is open to anyone for a relatively small annual fee.

I joined the library for myself when I was about eighteen and soon the place became an addiction, an obsession.” Orlando Whitfield

During a period of major cuts in funding public libraries and in some cases the closing of many branch libraries, there is an increasing need for independent private libraries. The extremely wealthy, whose income has risen of late at a dizzying pace are more than capable of establishing these libraries.

Their resources and in many cases excellent libraries can readily serve as their foundation. That was how these libraries originally came into existence. What better way to maintain the culture of reading and scholarship than by assuming a major role is founding these “houses of reading once again?”