The London Library

Contact details

Website: E-mail: Tel: +44 (0)207 7930 7705

photo of the london library

Image copyright: Paul Raftery

About the library

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. Over the past 170 years, The London Library's collection has grown to more than one million volumes, stored on 15 miles of open access shelves which may be freely browsed. 97% of the collections are available for loan.

With books dating from the 16th to the 21st century, including the very latest print and digital resources, the Library has always sought to acquire all of the standard and authoritative works of each generation. Approximately 8,000 new titles are added to the collections every year, requiring the Library to find a further half-a-mile of shelving every three years.

Highlights of the Collection:

  • Remarkably extensive collections in History and Biography, and a fascinating range of works on Topography, travel and exploration.
  • The Literature and Fiction sections include a huge range of novels, poetry, plays, essays, literary criticism and causeries.
  • The Art Room houses a substantial collection on the visual arts and architecture - a collection which is growing at a rate of 68 feet of extra book-shelf a year.
  • A wealth of scientific material for the specialist and the general reader, as well as fine coverage of the history of science, the social sciences and philosophy.
  • The Religion collection houses an exceptional range of theological texts and studies in comparative religion.
  • Books in over 50 languages, with particular riches in the French, German, Italian, Spanish and Russian collections.

With over 7000 current members, the Library 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. Past and present members include Charles Darwin, George Eliot, Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot, Bruce Chatwin, Sebastian Faulks, Jeremy Paxman, Antonia Fraser and current president Sir Tom Stoppard. Membership of The London Library is open to all.

The Library is a registered charity and receives no government or statutory funding and is funded entirely by members' subscriptions, donations and bequests.

The full local library catalogue is available online.

Accessing materials

Can I see live document availability on Copac? Yes. The Copac local holdings display will tell you if a document is currently on-loan, reference only etc. as well giving you local location details.

Can I obtain items via Inter Library Loan? Yes, subject to the library's local lending policy. You have to request an inter-library loan via a library of which you are a member. Talk to your own library staff about whether they think the document you need is likely to be available for loan and for advice on making an inter-library loan request.

Can I visit the library to view materials? Membership is open to all and limited numbers of Temporary Reference Tickets are available to non-members needing short-term access to Library materials not readily accessible elsewhere.


Nearest underground: Piccadilly, Green Park

London Library data on Copac

Example record from the London Library:

The birds of Great Britain : systematically arranged, accurately engraved, and painted from nature : with descriptions, including the natural history of each bird : from observations the result of more than twenty years application to the subject, in the field of nature : in which the distinguishing character of each species is fully explained, and its manner of life truly described / the figures engraved from the subjects themselves by the author, W. Lewin, and printed under his immediate direction.
  Published: London : Printed for J. Johnson 1796-1801

You can browse all the titles on Copac starting with the above title.