The London Library Collection

When the Library opened its doors in 1841 the collection consisted of only 3,000 books. Today we hold over 1 million volumes and continue to add around 8,000 new ones every year.

Three broad areas form the heart of the collection where subject coverage is particularly strong:

History

From ancient to modern: political, ecclesiastical, topographical, constitutional, social, economic, military...

Cultural expression

Literature, language, fine & applied arts, performing arts...

Thought & life

Philosophy, religion, folklore, social science, political science, political economy...

The emphasis of these core collections is on Europe and the West, reflecting the world view of our Victorian founders, but other areas of the world – particularly the USA and Commonwealth countries are well represented.


SEARCH THE CATALOGUE


Alongside the core subject areas there is a wealth of ‘niche’ subjects, with something on almost any topic that comes to mind - from the rigging of pirate cutters in the Napoleonic era to the design of alms-houses; from the history of Tupperware to the care and uses of camels.  

All subjects are strongly supported by works of biography and bibliography, the back-runs of over 2,700 periodicals, and a growing range of electronic journals and databases.

In the arts and humanities, older publications retain an interest and value and may be just as relevant to ongoing scholarship as newer works.  Retention of stock is, therefore, a key principle of our collection development policy and the collection encompasses published works from 1500 to the present day.

We believe that older works should be kept alongside more recent ones to reveal how a subject has developed or changed over time. For the most part, therefore, old and new titles are housed together in their subject categories and can be borrowed and freely browsed on our open bookstacks.

This combination of the collection’s extraordinary range and depth facilitates cross-disciplinary study and makes serendipitous discovery a constant delight.

Some 40,000 of the Library’s oldest, rarest, most valuable and vulnerable items are carefully secured within closed stacks, forming our Special Collections, but remain readily available for consultation. The result of the Library’s determination to acquire the most important publications from each generation, they represent a microcosm of the whole collections and include extraordinary rarities.

ONLINE PERIODICALS AND DATABASES

As well as print copies, the Library subscribes to over 300 online versions of its journals, augmented with access to thousands more through online periodicals archive services such as JSTOR. For further details of the extensive range of periodicals and databases that can be accessed on-line see our eJournals pages. Much of the content of our eJournals is directly searchable through the Library’s online catalogue service CATALYST

The majority of the Library’s electronic resources are provided through annual subscription rather than purchase and the continuation of each subscription depends on the volume of use and available funding. Wherever possible, licences are secured which permit use by members remotely (via the Library’s website) in addition to use on the Library’s premises. While some licences permit unlimited use, others are restricted to one or more simultaneous users; the use patterns of restricted licences are regularly reviewed and simultaneous use allowances expanded where demand requires and resources permit.

ONLINE CATALOGUE

Not all of the Library’s collections are included in our online catalogue but 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

Digital Materials

As the range of humanities information sources available in digital format has expanded, the Library’s collecting remit has also expanded to encompass digital materials where these are relevant to the subjects covered by the printed collections. 

In developing our electronic resources, we give priority to acquisition areas where digital format:

  • adds value to content by improving information retrieval, eg through full-text indexing (eJournals, newspapers) or by providing the capacity to search across a range of materials (subject bibliographies, periodical and newspaper compilations, compilations of reference works and/or texts with unified search engines)
  • offers longer-term possibilities for space saving (eJournals, bibliographies, reference works
  • has a reliable preservation and support infrastructure
  • provides access to materials not generally available or affordable to individual subscribers

It is our policy to defer exposure to digital (and other non-book) formats where:

  • content is merely reproduced in another medium (eBooks, audio)
  • access requires a particular brand of reading device (Kindle, iPad)
  • the purchase or subscription model is unfavourable in comparison with printed books

Benefits of joining the london library

Founded in 1841 The London Library is one of the world’s great lending libraries. An extraordinary history, a vast borrowing collection and an outstanding building make this a unique place to read, to write and to be inspired. 

Outstanding resources

Membership of The London Library offers access to an extensive collection of more than one million books dating from 1700 to the present day, almost all of which can be borrowed. The collection covers more than 2,000 subjects with c.6,000 new books added annually. Browse 17 miles of open access shelves for an unforgettable voyage of literary discovery!

Members can access hundreds of current journals and periodicals, with backruns of 2,500 titles. We also provide an extensive range of electronic resources – from JSTOR periodicals, databases and newspapers – giving members online access, from anywhere in the world, to over 25,000 academic journals and other scholarly resources.

Amazing spaces to work, think and create

Inside the Library there’s a vast labyrinth of books, hidden corners and beautiful working spaces. From elegant reading rooms, meeting rooms and information work spaces, to atmospheric bookstacks, it’s a unique literary oasis in the heart of London.

A creative community and inspiration for over 175 years

From Sarah Waters to Kazuo Ishiguro; Charles Dickens to TS Eliot; Virginia Woolf to Bram Stoker; we’ve been at the heart of literature for over 175 years. A home for anyone who loves the written word, we would love you to join them.


Membership types

All Memberships include:

  • Access to our unique collection of one million books, journals and periodicals
  • E-library access at home including JSTOR, Newspapers and academic journals
  • Borrowing rights of 10 or 15 books at a time with an increased allowance available
  • Long loan periods
  • Discounts on our events programme
  • Members Quarterly Magazine
  • Research and reference assistance
  • Postal loan service

Full Membership

  • Full access to the Library building during open hours (6 days a week and at least 2 late evenings until 9pm)
  • More than 150 spaces to read or work including four reading rooms or a choice of individual study spaces
  • Voting and AGM attendance helping to shape the Library

Associate Membership

  • Access to the Library building evenings and weekends - from 5 - 9pm on Mondays, Tuesdays and some Wednesdays and all day on Saturdays.

Remote Membership

  • Access to the Library building only to collect and return books.

 

Benefits of joining The London Library

Founded in 1841 The London Library is one of the world’s great lending libraries. An extraordinary history, a vast borrowing collection and an outstanding building make this a unique place to read, to write and to be inspired. 

Outstanding resources

Membership of The London Library offers access to an extensive collection of more than one million books dating from 1700 to the present day, almost all of which can be borrowed. The collection covers more than 2,000 subjects with c.6,000 new books added annually. Browse 17 miles of open access shelves for an unforgettable voyage of literary discovery!

Members can access hundreds of current journals and periodicals, with backruns of 2,500 titles. We also provide an extensive range of electronic resources – from JSTOR periodicals, databases and newspapers – giving members online access, from anywhere in the world, to over 25,000 academic journals and other scholarly resources.

Amazing spaces to work, think and create

Inside the Library there’s a vast labyrinth of books, hidden corners and beautiful working spaces. From elegant reading rooms, meeting rooms and information work spaces, to atmospheric bookstacks, it’s a unique literary oasis in the heart of London.

A creative community and inspiration for over 175 years

From Sarah Waters to Kazuo Ishiguro; Charles Dickens to TS Eliot; Virginia Woolf to Bram Stoker; we’ve been at the heart of literature for over 175 years. A home for anyone who loves the written word, we would love you to join them.


Membership types

All Memberships include:

  • Access to our unique collection of one million books, journals and periodicals
  • E-library access at home including JSTOR, Newspapers and academic journals
  • Borrowing rights of 10 or 15 books at a time with an increased allowance available
  • Long loan periods
  • Discounts on our events programme
  • Members Quarterly Magazine
  • Research and reference assistance
  • Postal loan service

Full Membership

  • Full access to the Library building during open hours (6 days a week and at least 2 late evenings until 9pm)
  • More than 150 spaces to read or work including four reading rooms or a choice of individual study spaces
  • Voting and AGM attendance helping to shape the Library

Associate Membership

  • Access to the Library building evenings and weekends - from 5 - 9pm on Mondays, Tuesdays and some Wednesdays and all day on Saturdays

Remote Membership

  • Access to the Library building only to collect and return books.


Come for a tour

If you’re thinking of becoming a member of the Library and would like to be shown around before you join, please contact our Reception on 020 7766 4700 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to arrange an appointment. You can also log onto our online cataloguing system Catalyst and e-library to search the Library’s collection and see what’s on offer on our extensive range of electronic resources.

 

The London Library Emerging Writers Programme

Applications for the 2020-2021 Programme will open in January 2020.

Sign up to our newsletter to find out when the Programme opens again, and to hear about upcoming events, offers and more.



The London Library is proud to launch an Emerging Writers Programme, a unique opportunity which offers writers, in all genres, one year's free membership of The London Library.

Geared towards supporting writers at the start of their careers, the Programme includes writing development masterclasses, literary networking opportunities, peer support and guidance in use of the Library’s resources. With its rich cultural heritage, extensive open access book collection, dedicated writing spaces and its diverse community of established writers, the benefits of Library membership are invaluable. 

For over 175 years The London Library has played a central role in inspiring writers and researchers, and has helped them explore and develop their work. From Charles Dickens to Sarah Waters, Charles Darwin to Simon Schama, Virginia Woolf to Kazuo Ishiguro, T.S. Eliot to V.S. Naipaul, writers have consistently found it to be an unrivalled resource.

The London Library Emerging Writers Programme is open to anyone who is committed to pursuing a career in writing (for publication or performance) and wants to develop their practice. Applicants should be working, or planning to work, on a specific project, with the aim of publication or production, and have a clear idea of how they might use the Library’s resources to achieve that aim. Applicants will be selected anonymously by a panel of judges including London Library Trustee and writer Daisy Goodwin (chair); Head of Prizes and Awards at the Society of Authors and Associate Director at the Royal Society of Literature Paula Johnson; novelist Nikita Lalwani; poet Raymond Antrobus and an agent from A M Heath.


EWP smaller

The 2019/20 Programme runs from 2 May 2019 to 1 May 2020. 

The current group of Emerging Writers includes poets, people writing for screen and stage, and fiction and non-fiction authors. Projects are already underway in a very diverse range fo subjects.

View current cohort of Emerging Writers

If you have any questions please email on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.