Friday, July 15, 2011
The other day our class went on a tour of the London Library. This library has a rich history; it was founded in 1841 and continues to be utilized by over 7,000 members today. We met with Jane Oldfield who gave us a brief history and introduction of the library along with a tour of part of the 15 miles of shelving contained within the library's walls.
Thomas Carlyle, the founder of the London Library wanted to establish a place where books could be checked out and taken home. He did not understand why people would want to read inside of the library and not in their home. The collection began with mainly books in the humanities and art fields, but has largely expanded today. The London Library is private; memebers must pay a fee to use the books. Because of this, their funding comes from private sources such as the membership fees, donations, legacies, and bequests. Originally the library was founded with 500 members.
Over the years, many people have become members of the London Library. Some of these members include Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, Rebecca West, Agatha Christie, T.S. Eliot, and even Winston Churchill who served as Vice President of the library in 1948. The library is still used today by writers, actors, and the general public.
Instead of using a system such as Dewey, like we do in the United States, the London Library arranges their books by subject and by size of the physical book. The big books go on the bottom shelves and the smaller ones on the top shevles. Our tour guide explained that there are over 1 million books in the collection, with 97% of them accessable to the public for ciculation. This includes 30,000 rare books. Only hardback books are placed on the shelves, and no book is ever taken out of the collection. No weeding takes places; the only time a book is taken off the shelf is when it is checked out.
The London Library has an allowance of £282,500 to spend on the purchase of new books which includes one third of that budget to be used on periodicals. There are four reading rooms in the library; each room is used daily, by many people. The first of the reading rooms was built in the 1890s.
I am very glad to have been able to visit the London Library. The building itself, with all the architecutural changes and styling was facinating. I had no idea a library existed in the world where books of all ages were open to the public in general circulation. I am dissapointed that I do not live closer to such a fantastic resource otherwise I would become a member!