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With more than one million books and periodicals in over 50 languages, the collection includes works from the 16th century to the latest publications in print and electronic form.


2016 is a momentous year for The London Library, marking 175 years since it first opened its doors in 1841.

In recognition of this milestone we have launched a special appeal, to enable Library supporters to mark the anniversary and raise funds to help develop our most fundamental activities.

For 175 years the Library has supported reading, writing and research and has built up a unique collection of over 1 million books which can almost all be borrowed. It has done this as an entirely independent institution, funded by membership fees and donations. Membership fees enable us to the meet the Library’s operating costs but we rely on additional donations to fund vital work in developing our collection, our building and the services we are able to offer.

The 175 Appeal is designed to help the Library ensure that our resources can be used to their fullest. Donations will help the Library:

  • Develop its collection through acquisition of new books, ensuring we can offer the best of the new titles that appear each year
  • Conserve the collection and ensure that our books – many of which are centuries old – can be kept in usable and borrowable condition
  • Ensure that our collection is effectively catalogued and accessible through Catalyst, our on-line catalogue and discovery tool
  • Facilitate wider access to our collection – for example through lending books via the Inter Library Loan scheme or enabling access to those who otherwise could not afford it.

Philip Spedding, Development Director at The London Library commented, “Our 175th anniversary is a great time to celebrate what the Library has achieved over the last 175 years. But it is also an important time to focus on the future development of our collection and the services we provide. We hope that through The 175 Appeal and the fantastic support we receive from countless individuals and organisations that we can raise vital funds to enable the Library to continue enhancing its collection and the unique role it plays. All of which, we think, would meet with the wholehearted approval of our founder, the great Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle”.

Sharp-eyed browsers at The London Library will spot a couple of small but not insignificant changes to the Library’s shelfmarks – the system that details how books are categorised on its shelves.

For over one hundred years The London Library has grouped its books by subject and there are now over 2000 separate shelfmarks in its classification systems. Within Religion, there has long been a shelfmark for Holy Water, even though only a tiny handful of books have ever occupied it.  Recently it was decided that the Holy Water collection – four books in total – was too fragile to occupy our general lending shelves and the books have been moved into our Special Collections to give extra protection. The books can still be accessed under consultation but can no longer be borrowed. In the process, the Holy Water shelfmark on our lending shelves will be gently retired.

At the same time, the Library has taken a broader view of Sex. Originally, this category – part of the Library’s Science & Miscellaneous collection - involved a narrowly biological definition; but as the decades have rolled on, the collection has become more diverse and its 500 books now incorporate a much wider range of topics including gender identity and sexual orientation. Accordingly, the Library has recently made a subtle but significant change to the shelfmark – “Sex” will now be “Sex &c.”

Dunia Garcia-Ontiveros, Head of Bibliographic Services, commented: “We adapt our shelfmark systems on an ongoing basis, making adjustments where needed to reflect the ways in which subjects themselves - and the ways in which they are studied - are changing.  While Holy Water can now be better looked after in our special collection, we fully expect Sex &c. to be part of lending life at The London Library for the foreseeable future.”

DesertIslandAs part of the Words In The Square 175th anniversary celebrations we were joined by Ned Beauman, Philippa Gregory, Deborah Levy, John O' Farrell, Nikesh Shukla and Sara Wheeler in a hugely entertaining "Desert Island Books" session chaired by Tom Sutcliffe.

During a fascinating hour the panel was asked to nominate books in different categories that they would take with them as castaways on a desert island. 

 The categories were:

My Favourite Childhood Read

The Book that Most Influenced Me

My Guilty Reading Pleasure

A Former Favourite I Won't Be Bringing to the Desert Island

An audience vote then picked the following category winners:

  • Favourite Childhood Read: “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson-Burnett (nominated by Deborah Levy)
  • The Book That Most Influenced Me: “A Room of One’s Own” – Virginia Woolf (nominated by Philippa Gregory)
  • Guilty Pleasure: “These Old Shades” by Georgette Heyer (nominated by Philippa Gregory)
  • Former Favourite: “Gone with the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell (nominated by Philippa Gregory); joint winner with “1984” by George Orwell (nominated by John O'Farrell)

Recommended Recent Reads

Each member of the panel also selected their recent book recommendations:

  • Family Life” by Akhil Sharma (chosen by Nikesh Shukla)
  • Preparation for the Next Life” by Atticus Lish (chosen by Ned Beauman)
  • Simple Gifts” by Joanne Greenberg (chosen by Philippa Gregory)
  • Beautiful Ruins” by Jess Walter (chosen by John O’Farrell)
  • The Lure of The North” by The London Library/Pushkin Press (chosen by Sara Wheeler)
  • Outline" by Rachel Cusk (chosen by Deborah Levy)

The London Library - one of the world’s great literary institutions – is officially 175 years old today!

Founded by Thomas Carlyle – with support from Charles Dickens, Harriet Martineau, John Stuart Mill and William Gladstone – the Library first opened its doors in 1841. It has been at the heart of UK literary life ever since and hundreds of famous writers have worked here and roamed its famous bookstacks.

Tom Stoppard, the Library’s President since 2002, commented: “For 175 years The London Library has held a special place in the affections of those who love books and the written word. It has stayed true to its purpose and become more than a great library – this is one of the places where literature keeps its soul”.

History pic


John O' Farrell


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