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On Monday evenings, The London Library opens its doors to non-members, who can take a free guided tour of this important literary institution.
Set up in 1841 by Thomas Carlyle, who had grown tired of the British Library, the London Library was founded on the principle that members should be able to enjoy the riches of a national library in their homes.
The ever-expanding collection contains more than 1 million books, over 90% of which are on display and can be borrowed by its members.
We started our tour by following the wonderful smell of old books up the stairs to the stacks containing the Science and Miscellaneous books in the library.
The London Library’s collection focuses on arts and humanities and has its own unique cataloguing system. This system places quite a few books in the catch-all category of Science and Miscellaneous. Here you’ll find anything from horse-shoeing to human sacrifice sitting alongside each other on the shelves.
From up here, you can get some idea of the size of the library – looking down through the slightly unnerving metal grille floor (a Victorian air conditioning system) you can see many storeys below, all packed with books.
We also peeped into the library’s main reading rooms – offering complete silence for members to read and write in.
Next we headed down to the basement (featured as the scene of a murder in an episode of New Tricks last year). This is where the library keeps its archive of periodicals, plus every single copy of The Times newspaper. Even the toilets (also in the basement) have a story to tell, as they are designed by Turner prize-wining artist Martin Creed.
The library has had, and continues to count, many famous writers among its members, including Charles Dickens, TS Eliot, Seigfried Sassoon and Simon Callow. But the library stresses that you don’t have to be an esteemed author to join, membership is open to all.
If you love books, I thoroughly recommend taking The London Library tour. It’s free and makes for a really interesting hour, where you’ll see books of all shapes, ages and sizes; find out about the library’s history, and potentially start planning the day you can join up and write your best-seller!