Recent blog posts

Acquisitions calling! Welcome to my second blog entry, which lists some of the more interesting and unusual titles that have been purchased by the Library in the last few weeks. I have recently placed on order a large selection of books from the Oxford University Press, October-December 2011, New Titles catalogue. These have all been selected by the Librarian and Head of Acquisitions, and should start arriving this week (which we will be catalogued by the Bibliographic Services team as swiftly as possible, ready for members to borrow!)

Some of the more bizarre titles that I have noticed recently include:

  • “Comparative Eskimo Dictionary” ed. Fortescue, Michael (University of Alaska Fairbanks, 2010) – this is in the Reading Room
  • “The Economics of Beer” ed. Swinnen, Johan F. M. (Oxford University Press, 2011)
  • “Creating Wine” Simpson, James (Princeton University Press, 2011)

Some recently purchased titles that have been heavily reviewed are:

  • “Virginia Woolf” Harris, Alexandra (Thames and Hudson, 2011)
  • “1Q84” Murakami, Haruki (Harvill Secker, 2011) –in 3 volumes
  • “Girl in a green gown: the history and mystery of the Arnolfini portrait” Hicks, Carola (Chatto & Windus, 2011)
  • “All Hell let loose: the world at war 1939-1945” Hastings, Max (HarperPress, 2011)
  • “Ben Jonson: a life” Donaldson, Ian (Oxford University Press, 2011)
  • “Ian Fleming’s Commandos: the story of 30 assault unit in WW2” Rankin, Nicholas (Faber, 2011)

Over the last few weeks I have been keeping an eye on some new books on British history:

  • “Imprisoning Medieval women: the non-judicial confinement and abductions of women in England” Seabourne, Gwen (Ashgate, 2011)
  • “Flora’s Empire: British gardens in India” Herbert, Eugenia W. (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011)
  • “Out of Empire: what ruling the world did to the British” Paxman, Jeremy (Viking, 2011)
  • “A Force to be reckoned with: the history of the Women’s Institute” Robinson, Jane (Virago, 2011)
  • “Novel Craft: Victorian domestic handicraft and nineteenth century fiction” Schaffer, Tali (Oxford University Press, 2011)

Also on order is, “Vanished Kingdoms: the history of half-forgotten Europe” Davis, Norman (Allen Lane, 2011), which due to many recent broadsheet reviews, already has 5 members waiting to read it, (it should hopefully arrive within the next few days). This, along with the other titles, make interesting additions to the Library’s ever expanding history collection.

Rhiannon, Acquisitions Assistant

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Posted by on in Graduate Trainees

Having heard from Carley, one of last year’s Graduate Trainees, about her experience and where it has led her, we are proud to introduce this year’s intake of new Graduate Trainees. We’ll be following them on the blog and charting their progress from bewildered London Library novices to all-knowing LL experts over the coming months.


First up, we have Alice, who is slowly finding her way through the labyrinth of stacks and marvelling at the Library’s many wonders.


Pinch me, I must be dreaming…


A library as perfectly peculiar as this is clearly a figment of the imagination, perhaps a result of one too many afternoon teas in front of the fire. It certainly epitomises the romantic ideal: thousands of volumes stacked to the horizons; the scent of aging paper, leather and, in some parts, bacon; whimsical shelf-marks (my favourite thus far is R. Serpent Worship); Brobdingnagian bindings and miniatures fit for a mouse… it simply cannot be real.

The London Library flouts the laws of time and space, drawing in the willing reader (or graduate trainee!) and depositing her, disorientated, dizzy, deep in the midst of H. Girondists. (This year will be filled with learning, and not just library lore. Note to self: research what a “Girondist” actually is.) Truly, the only way to begin to comprehend these idiosyncrasies is to get thoroughly lost in the labyrinth, a task in which all three of us have now achieved distinction. Round each new corner I keep half-expecting to encounter the skeletal, cobwebbed remains of previous trainees or perhaps Marley’s ghost. Alas, no Yorick, merely an owl, roosting in Literature. Still, far more pleasant than the spectres that the mind conjures up- perhaps it isn’t a dream after all.


Reality results in knowledge of the workings of the library; believe it or not, “Banging and Stamping” does occur here, though it isn’t as boisterous as the title suggests. (One blissful contrast between here and the public library from which I came.) In actuality, it comprises of ensuring each new book is fitted with a copy of The Rules and a date label, an essential task, but not the most enthralling.  However, it is trickier than it sounds: aligning the papers, attempting to position them true, the delicate balance of water on the back of the gummed sheets- should you find any crinkled, please forgive me.  There are an awful lot of skills to perfect and we shall keep you updated throughout our pilgrims’ progress.


If you’re intrigued by the shelf-marks Alice has referred to – R. Serpent Worship and H. Girondists – you can see a full list of the Library’s unique shelf-marks on our website


Coming soon: contributions from Alice’s fellow Graduate Trainees Rosie and Xavier.

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Posted by on in Graduate Trainees

The London Library is famed for its highly skilled, extremely experienced staff who know our collections inside out. But what about the next generation of librarians, just beginning in their chosen profession? Every year we recruit up to three lucky candidates for Graduate Traineeships here at the Library, providing them with a wide-ranging introduction to library work over the course of twelve months.

With our 2011-12 Graduate Trainees currently settling in to their new posts, one of our 2010-11 Trainees, Carley, describes how the scheme works and looks back on her year of hands-on learning.

For many, the age-old stereotype of the librarian – whose job is simply to look austere, shush people and stare them down with their inscrutable gaze when members raise their voice to anything more than a whisper – still dominates public perception. But did you know that it’s not at all easy to become a librarian? Yes, that’s right. Librarians of today need to gain a Masters degree in order to enter the profession. They not only take courses in traditional aspects of librarianship such as cataloguing and classification, collection management and preservation, but they must also learn how to cope with the continually evolving information environment. They must learn how to use computers, e-journals, use html, create their own websites, and thus comprehend a library which not only houses printed material, but electronic resources as well.

In order to gain a Masters qualification in Library and Information Studies, CILIP (the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) recommends that you first undertake a year-long Graduate Traineeship, during which you have the opportunity to learn through hands-on experience by exploring the various aspects of librarianship on offer. Whilst many institutions across the country offer trainee positions, very few offer such a varied and interesting experience as The London Library. Primarily based in Reader Services, the main responsibilities of a Graduate Trainee involve the effective day-to-day issue, return, renewal and reservation of books, as well as dealing with enquiries either face-to-face, by phone, email or fax.

You have probably seen us at the front desks, helping you to find books, or at the very least pointing you in the right direction, but this is not all Graduate Trainees do. The purpose of a Traineeship is to offer an insight into the multi-faceted library and information management profession, which is why The London Library also provides introductory training sessions in each of its departments – Membership, Acquisitions, Cataloguing, Conservation & Preservation, IT and Development – so that you are aware of not only how a library works and functions as a whole, but are also able to better understand the importance of each department and the role it plays within the institution. On a personal level, I found it particularly interesting to know and understand a little bit better things like The London Library’s criteria for book acquisition, preservation guidelines, and how to look after and carry out your own book repairs. The latter was perhaps one of the most enjoyable aspects of my traineeship, as Rachel, the Library’s Head Conservator, allowed me assist with the repairing of books and creating protective boxes if they were too old or fragile to be repaired in-house.

Training such as this has already set me in good stead for my postgraduate degree course (now that my London Library Graduate Traineeship is over, I have commenced at University College London), giving me extra insight into a profession which is anything but old-fashioned and requires a lot more than just shushing.  One of the nicest things about The London Library, however, is that you never really leave, and I am hugely grateful to have been given the opportunity of continuing work here in a different capacity, as a Casual Library Assistant on Monday and Tuesday evenings. Although one of the perks is further indulging my love of the Library and its fantastic collections (the Victorianist in me is constantly being let loose on the shelves!), the fact I am also able to apply the theory I’m learning at UCL to actual library practice is nothing short of invaluable.

Carley, Graduate Trainee 2010-11

Our new group of Graduate Trainees will be telling us more about their London Library adventures with a regular slot on the LL Blog throughout the coming year. Stay tuned for their first instalment, appearing here soon!

Carley, Graduate Trainee 2010-11

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Posted by on in Christmas

Whether we like it or not, the festive season will soon be upon us! But amid the commercial frenzy of gifts and baubles, one of the gentler and more literary Christmas customs endures among die-hard traditionalists: writing and sending seasonal cards.

The London Library has issued its own Christmas card since 1986, and in recent years they’ve been more popular than ever. Some of our best-known artists and illustrators have graciously accepted the Library’s commission – and the very small fee we offer – and produced designs of exceptional wit and charm. In 1990, Posy Simmonds showed a group of ‘carol-whisperers’ in St James’s Square, being semi-sternly shushed by a Library staff member. Quentin Blake, in 2003, depicted a scholar working deep in the stacks, surrounded by books but dreaming of a slice of Christmas pudding. Alexis Deacon’s 2009 card gathered together a group of festive book worms, gazing hungrily at a stack of volumes whose titles include Turkey and Christmas Crackers. Other artists, including Ronald Searle, John Lawrence and Hugh Casson, have brought their own perspectives on a London Library Christmas, from eminent members returning overdue books to a questionable-looking Santa quietly filling his sack from the stacks.

Posy Simmonds, 1990

Quentin Blake, 2003

This year’s wonderful design is by John Vernon Lord, whose acclaimed work has ranged from an album cover for Deep Purple to exquisite illustrations for the writings of Lewis Carroll (an exhibition of John’s illustrations for Through the Looking Glass is on at The Illustration Cupboard, very near the Library, until 5th November). John’s own children’s book, The Giant Jam Sandwich, has been loved by families for some thirty years.

Cards can be purchased from our online shop for £5 per pack of 8 cards and envelopes, including postage and handling; or for £4 per pack from the Library’s Reception. They are a lovely a way to support and spread the word about the Library, and to participate in one of our best-loved traditions.

Next time you’re in the Library, don’t forget to pop down to the Basement, where you will find a framed selection of past Christmas card designs hung proudly on the wall, for a little bit of festive cheer all year round.

Alexis Deacon, 2009

John Vernon Lord, 2011

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Posted by on in Acquisitions

Hello from Acquisitions! This will be a regular blog post to let you know about some of the more interesting – as well as odd and obscure – titles being added to The London Library’s collection. If you’d like to see allthe new books we acquire each month, you can browse the relevant section of our online catalogue at any time.

The Library orders on average 100 new titles per week, which does not include Out of Print or Standing Order titles. These are chosen from a wide variety of places, such as member suggestions, publisher catalogues, newspaper reviews and the TLS. The majority of what is in the newspaper reviews will already be ‘on order’ or possibly already ‘possessed’ by the Library (depending upon the publication date). We always try to get new books on the shelves for members as swiftly as we can.

A title that I spotted in the Oxford University Press, April-June 2011 catalogue was Introducing Philosophy for Canadians, which unfortunately was deemed to be unsuitable for the library, though the Librarian did comment that the title was “worthy of the Diagram Prize.”

Some heavily reviewed titles that have been purchased by the Library recently are:

  • Nikolaus Pevsner  Harries, Susie (Chatto & Windus, 2011)
  • The Cat’s Table  Ondaatje, Michael (Jonathan Cape, 2011)
  • Is That a Fish in Your Ear?  Bellos, David (Particular Books, 2011) –(This is about translation, and not hitchhiking or towels, though it is useful to know where your towel is)
  • Nemesis  Roth, Philip (Jonathan Cape, 2010)
  • Charles Dickens: a life  Tomalin, Claire (Viking, 2011)

Both Susie Harries and Claire Tomalin are London Library members, so it’s highly likely that these new books coming on to our shelves were written here, and/or researched using the Library’s existing collections. It’s always particularly thrilling to see a London Library member’s book come in, often with an acknowledgement to the Library and its staff.

Some of the more unusual titles purchased by the Library of late include:

  • Bittersweet: the story of Hartley’s Jam  Hartley, Nicholas (Amberley, 2011)
  • A Modern History of the Stomach  Miller, Ian (Harvey Miller, 2011)
  • Cattle: History, Myth, Art  Johns, Catherine (British Museum Press, Oct 2011)
  • Government Versus Markets  Tanzi, Vito (Cambridge University Press, 2011)
  • Official History of North Sea Oil and Gas (in 2 volumes) Kemp, Alex (Routledge, 2012)
  • Degas and the Ballet  Devonyar, Jill & Kendall, Richard (Royal Academy if Arts 2011) – (this has been produced to accompany the new Royal Academy exhibition)
  • The Oxford Handbook of Children’s Literature  Mickenberg, Julia L. & Vallone, Lynne (Oxford University Press, 2011) – (although not a core collection there is still a great deal of interest in children’s literature)

Shortly to reach our shelves is The Archaeology of Late Antique Paganism which has been edited by a former member of staff, Michael Mulryan. He has requested that this title has its own shelf, spotlights and big arrow pointing it out. This idea has, unfortunately, been rejected.

Also due to be published in October is, Leonard Russell Squirrell RWS RE; an artist, and not an actual squirrel (an easy mistake to make).

I look forward to sharing more news of new books over the coming months. Happy reading!

Rhiannon, Acquisitions Assistant

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Posted by on in Architecture

When we show prospective new members around on our Monday evening tours, one part of the Library always elicits gasps of wonder, and sometimes even a little vertigo: the 1890s stacks, part of the section of the building we refer to as the Back Stacks (a PDF map of the Library can be downloaded here).

What’s so special about the 1890s stacks? Architect Tony McIntyre, author of The Library Book, explains:

Home to some of our Science & Miscellaneous, History and Topography collections, the steel grille floors of the 1890s stacks, while unfriendly to anything but the most sensible footwear, are a triumph of practicality. Air circulates freely, light can permeate several floors and the structure is extraordinarily strong; the book stacks themselves are load bearing, meaning that this part of the Library truly is ‘made of books’. The unusual architecture and magical atmosphere of the 1890s stacks also make them a firm favourite with photographers and television makers: Spooks, The Culture Show’s World Book Night special and even an episode of New Tricks have all been filmed here.

The 1890s stacks aren’t just a labyrinth in which to browse and retrieve books, since reader spaces are dotted here and there for those who prefer the solitude of an isolated desk over the quiet communality of one of our Reading Rooms. The floors clank periodically as other members browse, layers of signage reflect the Library’s rich history, and shelves and shelves of books are within reach. For many Library members, this combination is just what they need to press on with reading, writing, studying or simply thinking.

And if you’re wondering what curiosities the oddly named Science & Miscellaneous section might hold? That’s a subject for another blog post – come back soon to read more!

…Everyone who steps off the half-landing of the main staircase into Science & Miscellaneous for the first time is astonished by the sudden break from mahogany panelling to cast- and rolled-iron, revealed in all their cold nudity. Here is a forest of densely packed, light iron columns, running up through four storeys to support a roof, and on the way supporting three grilled cast-iron floors, each only an inch in thickness. And the forest is solidly in-filled with books.

The 'Back Stacks'

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While we all love to bury ourselves deep in the Library’s 15 miles of bookstacks, sometimes the opportunity to gaze at other sources of inspiration is just what we need to keep the brain and imagination in top form. Yesterday members of our patrons’ group, The Founders’ Circle, enjoyed just that, with a special trip to the third LAPADA Arts & Antiques Fair in Berkley Square, just a short stroll away.

LAPADA’s Fair is a treasure trove of beautiful and fascinating things, from exquisite furniture to neo-classical watercolours, antique jewellery, sculpture, rugs, needlework, silverware, glassware, armory and, yes, books. Every object has its own story, and the expert exhibitors are eager to share what they know of the provenance and craftsmanship of their wares.

The Fair is open until 5pm this Sunday, 25th September. All London Library members are entitled to a free ticket, admitting two; tickets are available in the Reading Room and Members’ Room and can also be downloaded here.  Enjoy!

Two beautiful 18th century Library Chairs at the Wakelin & Linfield stand, LAPADA Art & Antiques Fair - now why would they have caught our eye?

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Posted by on in Uncategorized

We are delighted to welcome you to our new blog, where very soon you will be able to read more about the Library, our news, insights and behind-the-scenes features and posts by special guest bloggers…

Our first entry will be posted very soon – look out for updates via Twitter and Facebook. Meanwhile, please do have a look at our Treasures from The London Library series on History Today by Head of Bibliographic Services Dunia Garcia-Ontiveros.

We’d love to hear your ideas and suggestions for what you would like to see and read about on The London Library Blog! You can  send us your ideas on Twitter, using the #LLBlog hash tag, or post on our Facebook wall.

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