The Most Beautiful Libraries in London
Find your focus inside three of the most stunning libraries in the capital.
Two main issues face the young city-dweller of the early 21st century: the first is work, and the second is space. The two intertwine in the issue of finding a good workspace. The current jobs and housing crises are undeniable, leading many to down-size or move further afield from city centres in an effort to find affordable living spaces in a working environment that has never been so over-saturated by educated young individuals. An off-shoot of the jobs crisis is that there has been a sharp rise in those who have decided to become self-employed rather than working for an established company. Unfortunately, that also means giving up many of the advantages that working for a large company offers: free parking, a company car, but most importantly, an office space in which one can focus their efforts and increase productivity. Both of these issues are tied together with the loss of the personal office space: either as a domestic room for the private study of one’s own interests or hobbies, or (and as well as) the loss of the structured working office. Luckily there is a solution to the problem of focus spaces: the humble and much overlooked library. Thankfully the Victorians went on an edification binge, leading to the funding and construction of many public spaces including libraries. Admittedly, not all of the libraries on this list are Victorian, though the Victorians did give Britain a lasting legacy of producing motivational spaces where any member of the public may sit down and get some work or research done. Aside from the Barbican Library and the British Library, there remain a handful of exquisitely beautiful libraries in central London in which to crack on with whatever you need to get done. These have been chosen on the basis of size, available workspaces and sheer architectural beauty.
Westminster Reference Library
One of the advantages of the Westminster Reference Library is that it stays open until 8pm almost every night of the week which allows a nice cut-off point for workaholics whilst extending its hours to meet the demands of those who are only free for a few hours after work in central London. The stunning Georgian exterior leads into two floors of elegant, befitting interiors. As its primary function is a reference library, don’t expect to find a huge range of books to borrow from here, although it does have an excellent selection of varied topics to peruse through and read on-site. The grand building also offers free wi-fi and an exciting exhibition space that usually has something interesting going on.
Located at 35 St. Martin’s Street, London, WC2H 7HP
Open 10am-8pm Mondays to Fridays. 10am-5pm Saturdays. Closed on Sundays.
The London Library
The London Library is a private library so does require membership to access its space and collections, though considering what you’re paying for it offers reasonable rates of membership ranging from £20 to £40 per month. Founded in 1841, it’s the UK’s leading literary institution and one of the world’s leading private libraries which has the chops to match its impressive reputation. It boasts a collection of over one million books and continues to add around 8,000 new volumes every year. The interiors have breath-taking labyrinthine feel to them, and are the preferred working spaces of a host of top-tier professional authors (as well as Robert Pattinson who can oft be found wandering the reading rooms). Their list of historic members is beyond fiction: Charles Darwin, Agatha Christie, Virginia Woolf, Laurence Oliver, Edward Elgar, Bram Stoker, Winston Churchill (who was a Vice-President of the library) have all written important works here, and today Andrew Marr and Stephen Fry both regularly fit in research sessions.
Located at 14 St. James’s Square, London, SW1Y 4LG
Open 9.30am- 8pm Mondays to Wednesdays. 9.30am- 5.30pm Thursdays to Saturdays. Closed on Sundays.
National Art Library
The National Art Library may be found within the gilded bowels of the Victoria and Albert Museum. A direct product of Victorian edification, it represents the height of what government-funded public projects could achieve during the mid-19th century. Bookshelves stretch two storeys high, all shimmering from the light of crystal chandeliers hanging, as if by magic, from the plaster moulded ceilings that harken back to the glory of the Roman Empire. Again, it’s a public reference library and the V & A’s curatorial department for the art, craft and design of the book, so don’t expect to be able to take any books home. A specialist of art and design books, it also has leather topped workspaces from which to peruse through its outstanding collection. However, the wi-fi is essentially non-existent so this is best used as a focus space for reading and note-taking. The only real down-side is that it closes at the same time as the museum late in the afternoon; so make sure to get there in the morning to get the most out of it. Remember to leave your bags in the cloak room as they are not allowed inside.
Located at Cromwell Road, London, SW7 2RL
Open 10am-5.30pm Tuesdays to Thursdays. 10am-6.30pm Fridays. 10am-5.30pm Saturdays. Closed on Sundays and Mondays.