Sunday, August 8, 2010

London Library-07/13/10

What can I say about this place...if I were spending ample time in London I would definitely be paying the 32.90 pounds per month for membership (who needs a gym membership when you can have this)! Simply an amazing ambience with great historical value. Located at 14 St James's Square, members are able to peruse items including rare books dating from the 16th to the 21st century, as well as special collections and journals. The library was founded in 1841 by Thomas Carlyle and has continuously served as an intellectual home to many great writers. A few of my favorites who have "lived" in these walls include: Arthur Conan Doyle, George Bernard Shaw, George Eliot, T. S. Eliot, Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, and A. C. Grayling. Here are a few fun sites to some of these writers:

Like a Sherlock Holmes mystery, the building itself is a maze to be solved, as various stairs take you up various levels of various portions of the library. There is the main St James's building, the Central Stack, the Back Stacks, and the TS Eliot House. For such a small looking building on the outside, there is quite a large area to be discovered inside.

During the library tour I was amazed to see how little was available to preserve the materials here for such a great collection of rare books. The rare books used to be down in the basement where the pipes were located, conditions were too dry, and there was no preservation department. They now have a very meager but cleverly designed conservation room with pull out cupboards and storage and a large work table. There are places to store skins and vellum for the books, carts with wheels that can be moved around easily, and a large filter to help rid particles in the air (for health reasons rather than for the books).

Any book from the 1700's onward is in the regular collections, but anything dated before that is not on the main shelves. In the process of reorganizing the collections (specifically moving the rare books out of the basement) a lot of work was done. 85,000 books had to be moved to arrange an area for periodicals; 35,000 rare books had basic conservation procedures done; and a total of 14 kilometers of books were moved in a fairly recent project. They spent 4.5 years to clean the whole library, and then due to a building project that had to be done they have had to start the cleaning process again. The librarians literally have to dust and clean each shelve and each book housed there.

From the special collections I was able to see Shakespeare's 4th folio, medical essays that had been on the ship Bounty, a book of Henry VIII's which was bound in London and included what he wrote in regards to Martin Luther, a 1st edition of Charles Darwin's "Origin of a Species" and some of his other works, and a proof copy of Lawrence of Arabia's "The Seven Pillars of Wisdom".

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