THE LIBRARIES OF LONDON
London is one of the most literary-minded cities in the world. It would be hard to think of a subject which has not got a library devoted especially to it.
Let us start with the highest library in London, the Capitular Library of St. Paul’s Cathedral. To reach it, you must be prepared for a long climb, for it is situated right up near the Whispering Gallery which encircles the base of the cathedral dome .
The origin of the library dates back to the seventh century, but all its books, with the exception of some books printed before 1500 and six manuscripts, were destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. The archives, however, were preserved. The Library was refounded after the Fire and the collection was built up again by gift and purchase during the 17th and 18th centuries.
From the highest library in London to the biggest – which, of course, is that of the British Museum. The British Museum Library contains about six million books and the large circular Reading Room is in the centre of the Museum building. In the Reading Room is a reference section of 30,000 volumes on open shelves and also the catalogues for the whole library.
In 1841 the London Library in St. James Square was founded – a library of about 600,000 volumes, mainly devoted to the humanities and fine arts.
Guildhall Library founded in 1425, maintained by the City of London Corporation, is the largest public general library in London. It has a very extensive collection, including many thousand original records, relating to every aspect of London history and topography.
Each of the London boroughs maintains a public library service.Holborn’s Central Library, for example, is housed in a fine new building which was opened in 1960 and has attracted interested visitors from all parts of the world. It has over 150,000 books (lending and reference), as well as over 5,000 gramophone records of musical works and language instruction. 1960 also saw the opening of Kensington’s new Central Library, the largest municipal public library building in London.