Our collection of over 1 million books is arranged into the following broad collections (listed below in order of their relative size). The collections are further subdivided into individual shelfmark sections. You can download a complete list of shelfmarks here.
History This extensive collection includes works on individual countries, monarchs, historical events and topics such as feudalism, international relations and chivalry. Particular strengths are found in the 5000+ volumes on World War I and II, over 600 volumes about Napoleon, over 500 regimental and divisional British army histories, sections on British and European royalty and emperors, and on British imperial history. The range of individual sections - such as the Dreyfus affair, Imaginary history - covers 350 other subjects.
Literature includes the works of authors writing in over 50 languages as well as commentaries on individual writers and studies on national literary output. Coverage of Classical Greek and Latin writers and philosophers includes a wide range of scholarly editions and a full set of Loeb volumes. Literature covers poetry, drama, history of theatre, essays and journalistic writing. There are particular strengths in key writers including over 2000 volumes on Shakespeare, and over 500 each on Goethe and Dante, The foreign language collections cover a remarkably rich cross-section of European literature from the earliest times to the present day. There are smaller 19th century collections of Asian languages and a separate collection of Children’s Literature focused on 19th and early 20th century works by authors normally writing for adults.
Biography & Biographical Collections include the life stories of eminent families and individuals , as well as those of many ordinary people whose lives shed light on their times. The collection strengths are in British public life - there are over 150 works on Churchill, nearly 100 on Wellington, over 50 on Dickens (with another 200 in Literature), over 60 on Woolf (with another 100 in Literature) and over 60 on Eliot (with another 250 in Literature).
Science & Miscellaneous. This large and heterogeneous collection encompasses all of the Library’s holdings on subjects outside the humanities. This includes works on branches of the social sciences such as politics, economics, education and sociology. While we no longer collect technical or scientific works, there is much of interest for the history of medicine and science with sections on subjects such as evolution, medicine, psychology, mathematics, biology, botany, engineering, meteorology and more, including many 19th century textbooks for autodidacts. Performing (and performance) arts also form part of this collection, including music, opera, dancing, cinema and photography. Finally, there is a miscellany of books on the topics such as aviation, dress, folklore, love, sport, vegetarianism and windmills to name but a few.
Fiction has a breadth and depth of novels that would be hard to match elsewhere in the country. It includes works originally written in English as well as translations of novels from other languages. The collection has been continuously added to since 1841 and includes many editions of standard works as well as many more obscure or almost forgotten writers who are beginning to experience a renewed interest in their works. A particular strength is the English crime writing collection of the 1920s to 1940s.
Topography includes narratives of voyages and expeditions, local studies of specific areas, histories of regions, counties, cities and towns (particularly in England), accounts of archaeological excavations, including the British Archaeological Reports: British series, and books recording foreigners’ impressions of England. Highlights of the collection include complete runs of the Victoria County History, The Survey of London, The Royal Commission on Ancient Monuments, The Hakluyt Society and Pevsner’s Buildings of England, Scotland and Wales.
Religion includes works on every faith and many religious sects as well as topics such as spiritualism, the philosophy of religion, and miracles. It is strongest on every aspect of Christianity, including ecclesiastical histories of Christian countries, biblical texts and commentaries as well as lives of saints and theological literature. Highlights include a collection of the New Testament in 95 different languages, the Patrologia Orientalis, Patrologia Latina and Patrologia Graeca, Corpus Christianorum: Series Latina, nearly 300 editions and commentaries of the works of Martin Luther and nearly 200 editions and commentaries of the work of St Augustine.
Art includes works on the fine and applied arts including painting, sculpture and architecture as well as on topics such as aesthetics, artistic anatomy and colour. The key strength of the collection is art up to around 1950 though contemporary art is covered to a lesser extent. Particular highlights for specialists include the Corpus Vitrearum, the Corpus Vasorum and the Corpus Speculorum Etruscorum. There are also over 700 auction house sale catalogues as well as specialised collections on subjects ranging from illumination of manuscripts to finger rings.
Bibliography includes printed catalogues of public and private book and manuscript collections as well as bibliographies by language and on subjects as diverse as falconry, railways and duelling. It also contains works on aspects of bibliography such as publishing, prohibited books, bindings and book illustration as well as bibliographies of writers and other individuals. There is also a small collection on the history of librarianship as well as titles on The London Library itself.
Philosophy includes general studies on the different branches of philosophy as well as the writings of individual philosophers from the Middle Ages to the present day. The focus is on ancient and modern philosophy, epistemology, moral and political philosophy, aesthetics, and metaphysics as well as on smaller branches such as the philosophies of language, mind (dualism and materialism), religion, science, law (jurisprudence) and history. Works are also acquired in the major traditions of German idealism, pragmatism, phenomenology, existentialism, structuralism and post-structuralism and the analytic tradition.
Philology includes works on almost 200 languages, dialects and scripts as well as subjects such as palaeography, shorthand, cryptography, place names and slang. Strengths are in English and foreign grammars (classical and modern) including dialects, dictionaries, place-name histories, proper names and slang. A set of the Chartae Latinae Antiquiores is available on request.
Genealogy & Heraldry includes armorial books, genealogies of aristocratic and other prominent families and clans as well as registers of immigrants, servants, convicts and guides to family history. There are long runs of Who’s who (as well as an online edition), Debrett’s peerage as well as the Almanach de Gotha and other European genealogies.
Not all of the Library’s collections are included in our online catalogue as yet. We have added all acquisitions since 1950 and a substantial and growing number of titles from our earlier catalogues as part of our Retrospective Cataloguing Project page .
The shelfmarks are arranged in alphabetical order in the book stacks. You can download a map of The London Library here.