Tag Archives: The London Library

The London Library in Books

Nicht nur waren – und sind – es zahlreiche Schriftsteller, die ihre Bücher ganz, teilweise und/oder mit Hilfe der London Library verfassen, sondern die Bibliothek taucht auch immer mal wieder im einen oder anderen Buch auf. LoL ist in gerade in letzter Zeit zwei Mal der Bibliothek begegnet.

Zum einen in A. S. Byatt’s Possession. A Romance. Das Buch beginnt in der London Library, wo der Wissenschaftliche Assistent Roland in einem Buch, das einst dem Viktorianischen Poeten und Gegenstand von Roland’s Forschung Randolf Henry Ash gehörte. Die Zeilen beschreiben wunderbar die Atmosphäre in der Bibliothek, die sich auch nach 20 Jahren (die Handlung spielt in 1986/87) nicht wesentlich geändert hat:

The book was thick and black and covered with dust. Its boards were bowed and creaking; it had been maltreated in its own time. Its spine was missing, or rather protruded from amongst the leaves like a bulky marker. It was bandaged about and about with dirty white tape, tied in a neat bow. The librarian handed it to Roland Mitchell, who was sitting waiting for it in the Reading Room of the London Library. It had been exhumed from Locked Safe no. 5 where it usually stood between Pranks of Priapus and The Grecian Way of Love. It was ten in the morning, one day in September 1986. Roland had the small single table he liked best, behind a square pillar, with the clock over the fireplace nevertheless in full view. To his right was a high sunny window, through which you could see the high green leaves of St James’s Square.

The London Library was Roland’s favourite place. It was shabby but civilised, alive with history but inhabited also by living poets and thinkers who could be found squatting on the slotted metal floors of the stacks, or arguing pleasently at the turning of the stair. Here Carlyle had come, here George Eliot had progressed through the bookshelves. Roland saw her black silk skirts, her velvet trains, sweeping compressed between the Fathers of the Church, and heard her firm foot ring on metal among German poets. Here Randolph Henry Ash had come, cramming his elastic mind and memory with unconsidered trifles from History and Topography, from the felicitous alphabetical conjunctions of Science and Miscellaneous – Dancing, Deaf and Dumb, Death, Dentistry, Devil and Demonology, Distribution, Dogs, Domestic Servants, Dreams.

(Byatt, A.S. Possession. A Romance. London: Vintage, 1991. S. 1-2)

Zum anderen in Alan Bennett’s kurzer, höchst amüsanter Geschichte The Uncommon Reader, in welcher die Queen das Lesen für sich entdeckt und ihrer Umgebung damit höchstes Unbehagen bereitet. Zum Lesen kommt sie durch die zufällige Entdeckung der City of Westminster travelling library, die einmal in der Woche auch im Palast Halt macht und in der sie, aus lauter Verlegenheit, schliesslich ein Buch ausleiht. Um ihre Leselust zu stillen, macht sie bald auch von anderen Bibliotheken Gebrauch:

Seeing that Ackerley had written an autobiography, she sent Norman down to the London Library to borrow it. Patron of the London Library, she had seldom set foot in it and neither, of course, had Norman, but he came back full of wonder and excitement at how old-fashioned it was, saying it was the sort of library he had only read about in books and had thought confined to the past. He had wandered through its labyrinthine stacks marvelling that these were all books that he (or rather She) could borrow at will. So infectious was his enthusiasm that next time, the Queen thought, she might accompany him.

(Bennett, Alan. The Uncommon Reader. London: Profile Books, 2008. S. 19-20)

Nicht nur ihre Untergebenen verwirrt die neugewonnene Leselust der Queen, auch ihren Hunden (die eigentlich daran Schuld sind) kommt das Ganze sehr komisch vor – sehr zum Leidwesen der London Library:

Did her Majesty ever let a book fall to the carpet it would straightaway be leaped on by any attendant dog, worried and slavered over and borne to the distant reaches of the palace or wherever so that it could be satisfyingly torn apart. The James Tait Black prize nothwithstanding, Ian McEwan had ended up like thiss and even A. S. Byatt. Patron of the London Library though she was, Her Majesty regularly found herself on the phone apologising to the renewals clerk for the loss of yet another volume.

(Bennett, Alan. The Uncommon Reader. London: Profile Books, 2008. S. 36)

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A Visit to The London Library

Some time ago, LoL wrote about The London Library. She had come across their website somehow and was quite impressed and intrigued. As it happens, the London Library offers introductory tours every last Saturday of the month to interested people and prospective members. As it happened, LoL was in London on the last Saturday of June and was allowed to join the tour.

The library is situated in the heart of London, at St. James’s Square, between Picadilly and Pall Mall. Standing before the entrance, the house looks quite small, but inside there’s a labyrinth of floors and rooms filled with bookshelves (just have a look at the Map of the London Library to get an impression of its size!). The library has a collection of about 1 million volumes, more than 95 % of which on open shelves, to be browsed at leisure by its readers and available for loan. Members of the library are allowed to borrow between 10 and 15 volumes at the time (depending on where you live, i.e. in or outside London) or up to 40 volumes (for supplementary fees). There are no fixed loan periods, really. Readers are allowed to keep the books for at least one month, and longer if it is not requested by someone else. Members who live too far away to just pop in, can simply phone up the library or send an e-mail and the requested books will be posted on the same day. This uncomplicated and fast service is also used by other libraries, many of which are institutional members. As the London Library is an independent library, and therefore not part of the interlibrary loan system in Britain, the other libraries – and their readers – can profit from the much faster service.

The London Library was founded in 1841 by Thomas Carlyle and such famous persons as Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Henry James, Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot and Agatha Christie were among its members (see here for a brief history of the library on their website). Interesting is also their shelving system, which is basically alphabetical. There is a number of broader subjects, or main headings, such as “H” for History or “L” for Literature. Within these, everything is arranged alphabetically, according to author’s name, title etc. Within the larger parts of the collection, the main headings are subdivided into further subjects. Of particular interest is level 4 in the building, where “S” is found. “S” stands for “Science & Misc.” and here, all kinds of subjects are found, all, of course, in alphabetical order, such as Atlantis, Assassins, Ballooning, Bells, Camel, Cheese, Domestic Servants, Exhumation, Fear, Flower Arrangement, Friendship, Hair, Hysteria, Human Sacrifice, Insanity, Laughter, Logic, Love, Pawnshops, Pleasure, Refrigerating, Shipwrecks, Stamps, Sugar, Taxidermy, Typewriters, Vinegar, Weathercocks, Whaling, Witchcraft. One can easily see the historic contexts, out of which many of these subjects grew. And one can also imagine how fun it is to just browse the shelves and discover all kinds of curious books. (As a substitute, just having a look at the complete list of shelf marks is quite fun as well).

When LoL first read about the London Library, she was wondering what kind of people were using the library. After all, the membership fee of £375 per annum isn’t nothing. This isn’t to say that it’s not worth the money, not at all. But there’s a difference between what something’s worth and whether one can afford it or not. Well, there is, of course, a great number of members, LoL hasn’t thought of, although it is actually quite obvious, especially when one looks at the website: Professional writers. There are (and have been) a lot of authors, writers, journalists etc. who use the library on a daily basis. Not just the collection and services, but the actual premises, to write their books, articles, essays etc. (just think about all the books that were, are and will be written there!). A quiet and peacful office/work space in the heart of London for £375 a year, with access to thousands and thousands of books, reference works etc. is certainly worth every penny. And after all, a library is the best place to work in anyway 🙂 . If LoL lived in London, she’d certainly be tempted to join…

“Open to all” – The London Library

The London Library (www.londonlibrary.co.uk) am St. James’s Square im Herzen von London ist, gemäss eigenen Angaben, die grösste unabhängige Leihbibliothek der Welt und für alle zugänglich – sofern man sich die Jahresgebühren von £ 375.00 leisten kann. Das schränkt das “offen für alle” natürlich gleich beträchlich ein. Denen, die sich die Gebühr leisten können, stehen dafür rund 1 Mio. Bücher in Freihandmagazinen auf mehreren Stockwerken zur Verfügung. Die Bücher (der Bestand umfasst Werke des 16. bis ins 21. Jahrhundert) können entweder in den gediegenen Räumlichkeiten studiert oder – mit wenigen Einschränkungen – ausgeliehen werden. Die Sammlung der Bibliothek ist recht beindruckend und enthält auch viele Sondergebiete, darunter z.B. auch eine German collection (allgemeine und spezielle Beschreibungen der verschiedenen Sammlungen finden sich unter “Guides to the collections”) mit einer gesonderten Abteilung speziell über Schweizer Literatur. Auch wenn die Mitgliedsgebühr zu dieser recht exklusiven Bibliothek für viele eher unerschwinglich ist, so kann man doch auch sagen, dass es schön ist, dass es offensichtlich doch einige Leute gibt, die bereit sind, für die Benutzung einer Bibliothek so viel Geld zu investieren.

Für an einer Mitgliedschaft Interessierte bietet die Bibliothek jeweils individuelle Einführungen und Führungen durch die Bibliothek an. Ausserdem finden jeden letzten Samstag im Monat Einführungstouren durch die Bibliothek statt. Es ist nicht ganz klar, ob sich diese ebenfalls nur an potientelle zukünftige Mitglieder richtet oder nicht, aber da the Lonely Librarian zufälligerweise am letzten Samstag des kommenden Monats Juni in London sein wird, wird sie auf jedenfall versuchen, einen Blick in diese Bibliothek zu werfen.