The above quotation comes from the acknowledgements in a book by the highly-acclaimed children’s author, Mary Hoffman. And I have come across many similar tributes in books by other grateful members. Georgette Heyer, for example, was a member and found it invaluable when researching The Spanish Bride and An Infamous Army.
I added my own small tribute in Crossing the Tamar. I wrote: I could not have written this without the resources of the wonderful London Library – where else could I find The Times of 1808 and books on Cornish Mail coaches and a history of cock fighting all under the same roof?
So, what is the London Library (not to be confused with the British Library)? It is a members library in St James’s Square, just behind Piccadilly, founded in 1841 by the historian, Thomas Carlyle. 19th century members include Charles Dickens, George Eliot and Arthur Conan Doyle. 20th century members include Agatha Christie, John Betjeman and Jane Aiken Hodge. Current members include Tom Stoppard, Philippa Gregory and Diana Norman.
There are over one million books and over 8,500 new books are added annually. Of particular interest to historical novelists, are the literature (and fiction), history, biography, topography and arts sections. Personally, I love the quirky Science and Miscellaneous section, which has everything from smuggling, chocolate and costume to folk lore, cricket and sundials.
What I particularly like is that the library never discards books, so you can find – and borrow - an early 19th century guide to Dieppe, for example, or The Illustrated London News from 1860.
It’s a great place to work, too. There are several rooms to work in, including the original reading room with its deep leather armchairs, but, if you prefer, there are also desks tucked away in various odd corners all over the building. There is an outstanding reference library and free internet access through public terminals and Wi-Fi for laptop users.
If at home, or out of London, members have free, remote access to a wealth of resources, including JSTOR, the online archive. And the library will post books to members anywhere in the U.K. and Europe for just the cost of postage.
So, what does all this cost? The current annual subscription is £395. A lot, you may think, and, of course, it is. You can, however, pay monthly, which comes to just over £33 per month. Or, to put it another way, it’s a little over £1 a day – the cost of a daily newspaper. I was discussing this with a journalist I met there a week or so ago. She said, ‘An awful lot of other things would have to go first before I’d give up my membership.’
Judge for yourself. www.londonlibrary.co.uk
(Pictures courtesy of The London Library)