the london library

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The London Library

The London Library founded 1841

  • Membership is open to all.
  • Personal membership: £495 pa (2016 rate). The membership fee can be spread across affordable monthly payments of £41.25
  • The London Library Trust offers grants for those unable to meet the full fee.
  • Institutional membership is available for organisations, associations, commercial bodies and public library authorities.
  • Short-term reference tickets are available on application, for one day or one week, but without borrowing rights.
  • Members based in London may borrow up to 10 volumes at once; those based elsewhere, 15; more may be borrowed for an additional fee.
  • A postal loans service dispatches books to members throughout Europe.
  • Special rate for 16-24 year olds.


The London Library was founded in 1841 by Thomas Carlyle. His founding vision was for an institution which would allow subscribers to enjoy the riches of a national library in their own homes.Carlyle was joined in his vision by eminent early supporters: The Earl of Clarendon, the enlightened early-Victorian politician, was the Library's first president, Thackeray its first auditor; Gladstone and Sir Edward Bunbury were on the first committee and early members included Charles Dickens and George Eliot.Over the past 170 years, The London Library's collection has grown to more than one million volumes covering 2,000 subjects. It has enjoyed the patronage of many eminent writers, academics, politicians and readers throughout its history and has long played a central role in the intellectual life of the nation.


The object in forming the Library in 1841 was to provide “the Metropolis of Great Britain with a Library from which books are taken out to be read at home”. It was not designed to compete with circulating libraries or those of a special or professional character so the purchase of novels and of technical or professional works was avoided.Another founding principle, still followed by the Library today, is that no book should ever be discarded, no matter how idiosyncratic or unfashionable.With the addition of ca. 8,000 new volumes every year by the 1880s the Library had developed its original 3,000 volumes into a “noble collection of books” on all subjects in the humanities.Over time the Library broadened its scope and today it offers members access to over a million books to support both serious study and reading for pleasure


The Library stands at the north-west corner of St James's Square, as it has since 1845, after briefly occupying the first floor of the Travellers Club in Pall Mall. The building was entirely reconstructed in 1896-98, as one of the first steel-frame buildings in London, when the present eclectic façade, the Main Hall and the Reading Room above it, and the grille-floored bookstacks above and immediately behind were erected. The listed (Grade II) building has since been extended several times, in the 1920s, the 1930s and the 1990s. In 1995, the Anstruther Wing - a new building fronting Duke Street - was completed with five floors of book storage designed for the safe housing of 25,000 of the Library's rarest and most vulnerable volumes. In 2004 premises adjoining the Library in Mason's Yard, off Duke St, were acquired to accommodate the ever-growing collections; planning permission to incorporate this annex and refurbish the existing buildings has been obtained; and the Library's largest development project in over a century has recently been launched.

Contact information

Gillian Turner MA MCLIP, Head of Acquisitions
14 St James's Square, London SW1Y 4LG
tel: 02079 307 705 / email: or

Open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday 9.30-20.00; Thursday, Friday, Saturday 9.30-17.30

Short-term reference tickets available on application, for one day or one week, but without borrowing rights. Visiting parties welcome by arrangement or please check our website for further opportunities to visit.



Incorporated by Royal Charter (granted 1933; renewed 2004); Registered Charity number 312175




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