The London Library's collections reflect more than most the changing reading tastes and research requirements of generation after generation of its readers. The first desiderata lists for the Library were drawn up by its founder members: Carlyle, Gladstone, Grote, Hammond, Mill, Mazzini and other leading scholars of the day, each responsible for ensuring coverage in their particular areas of specialization. Members continue to play an central role in the selection and development of the collections, by bequeathing parts of their personal libraries, by donating copies of their own books, and by making regular suggestions for acquisition.
The collecting has a long and complex history and it continues to evolve. Each Librarian has been responsible for the shape and growth of the collection and various interests can be detected in certain areas where the Library has particular strengths. Some foreign aspects of the collection have evolved under specialist librarians and continue to grow in this way.
The collection may be described broadly as offering material covering the western European humanities, with a particular emphasis on literature – with an outstanding Fiction collection - history, biography, fine and applied art, architecture, philosophy, religion, topography and travel, including earlier guide-books and atlases and some social sciences. Pure and natural sciences, technology, medicine and law are not within the Library's scope although there are some 18th and 19th century collections in all these fields and the Library continues to collect in the history of these subjects. Foreign language collections in all these fields are maintained in French, German, Italian, Russian and Spanish although with emphasis on the literatures and cultures of the countries in question.
Beyond this central remit there are numerous small collections of Asian and African materials mostly from the 19th and early 20th centuries and innumerable subject collections covering anything from Advertising to Zoology passing through Etiquette to Somnambulism on the way.
Current acquisition policy is overseen by the Librarian assisted by a number of foreign language specialist staff. Material is acquired through purchase, donation and bequest. All material new to the Library is added to the online catalogue. Book selections are made from publisher catalogues, review material and member requests and suggestions. All titles being ordered may be viewed on the online catalogue, with most available shortly after publication or within a few weeks of the request in the case of earlier titles. The preference is to acquire cloth editions of titles whether by purchase or donation in order to minimise binding costs; paperback material will be considered if there is no alternative. Audio, video, CD or DVD formats are not collected but e-book developments are being watched with interest.
Members wishing to donate titles or considering bequeathing books to the Library should contact the Head of Acquisitions either by email firstname.lastname@example.org or by letter and the offers can be discussed.
All recent acquisitions are displayed in the Issue Hall with a selection of book jackets available for additional information. New books may be borrowed for a fortnight. Members may place a request a new book whilst it is still on order from the publisher, or whilst on loan to another member, and will be notified when it is available.
New acquisitions lists are also displayed each month on the online catalogue.
Suggestions for purchase
The Library welcomes suggestions from members for both new and older titles that would be an appropriate addition to the collection. The Librarian reviews every title suggested. Around 95% of titles are approved. Foreign title suggestions are forwarded to the subject specialist librarian for consideration. Suggestions may be made either in person, by email, telephone, fax or letter.
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