Great Collections: The book collection of the London Library

Nestled among London's prestigious gentlemen's clubs lies a west end institution of its own, the London Library.

This exclusive library has an annual fee that would rival the nearby East India or Carlton clubs, but for £435 members gain access to more than one million tomes with no limit on borrowing time.

Books date from the 16th century and include items that are near impossible to find elsewhere.

"Old, idiosyncratic or unfashionable," books are never discarded from the shelves says the library. This is a place to learn, savour and lose yourself in surroundings that evoke a strong sense of history.

Founded in 1841, what is now the largest lending library in Europe has occupied its St James's Square premises since 1845. It has expanded many times, most recently in 2004, when capacity was boosted by 30% with the Mason's Yard extension.

The London Library has 15 miles of bookshelves

The library includes impressive collections in a vast range of areas, including fiction and history, with a mass of scientific material. There is also a huge theological texts section that would be sure to interest investors if only the library would part with them...

Despite its dusty and well-worn persona, the library is embracing the digital age. All books and periodicals since 1950 can be browsed online, while those from further ago are in the process of being added.

With its 15 miles of bookshelves and cosy reading rooms, the London Library is a second home to many writers and researchers and has included a number of famous names among its members, including Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill and Charles Darwin.

Today, you may bump into Michael Palin, Jeremy Paxman or president Tom Stoppard. Exclusive company indeed.


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