Tuesday, 19 May 2015

A Trip to the London Library

Today, reminiscent of my Cambridge trainee librarian days, I went on a trip to visit the London Library.  I have always wanted to visit and was intrigued about how large the building is, who uses it, how many books there are etc.  Amanda, Head of Member Services very kindly took our team round and answered all of my questions.

Entrance in Saint James' Sqaure

A blurry shot but you get the picture!
There over 1 million books in over 50 languages with an annual accrual of about 8,000 books with nothing going out of circulation.  Around 97% of the books are available to browse on open stacks and, my, aren't their stacks impressive!  To aid the circulation of air the floor is made up of very holy steel and there are rooms upon rooms of books to discover.  There are now several buildings housing the Library that sprawls back from St James' Square to meet Duke Street.

It was interesting to hear how the Library deals with incoming books and plans ahead for subject areas that they think will be popular in academic research.  The Library has its own classification scheme, which makes browsing very serendipitous with butterflies being shelved next to camels and houses next to human sacrifice.  Apparently members often come away with a whole load of books that they never expected to.  Occasionally they will need to create new classifications for modern subjects but they are slow and careful about this to ensure that no unnecessary disruption is caused to the shelving of the books.

They are planning another phase of their refurbishment, carried out by Haworth Tompkins, who are incidentally the NT architects for NT Future.  I could definitely see touches of HT throughout the London Library with their respect for original features and the need for light and functionality.  The Library has won RIBA National and London Region awards and Amanda was very proud that the building is being appreciated as an entity on its own.  The light well reading room in particular was a stunning space - I just wish I had had such a space when I was revising!

Some beautifully bound volumes of The Times

The most interesting space for me was...the toilets.  The Library, during its refurbishment, wished to bring in an artist to create a new work related to the Library, as many cultural institutions are wont to do.  Martin Creed took up the job and designed the toilets.  Each toilet has different fixtures and fittings eg. sink, toilet roll holder, taps etc. and the floors are mosaics of marble.  The colours in the marble are inspired by the different coloured book bindings and the layout reflects the serendipitous nature of browsing the shelves.

Lovely toilets
Finally, Amanda showed us their online catalogue, Catalyst, which allows you to search for a book and then view what is next to it on the shelf.  This is something that I remember discussing when I was on my traineeship and then on my Masters and it was great to see it in practice.  Members can browse these shelves from home and decide quickly and easily what it is they want to see as well as what else might be of interest without having to come to the Library.  They can then order the books to be ready on their arrival or, I discovered, be posted to them if they live more than 20 miles from London.  What a great service and a huge thanks to Amanda for taking us round and showing us snippets of the National Theatre in the Library.

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