The London Library, founded by Thomas Carlyle in 1841, is the world’s largest independent lending library, with over 1,000,000 books and 8,000 members. Since its inception the Library has evolved into a complex amalgam of spaces that originate from a building sited on the north west corner of St James Square. The building has a discrete formal façade that provides a foil for a more aggregative interior. Over the years additional buildings have been annexed to house the ever-growing needs of the Library and its users, including a book stack built in 1922, and an extension to the north built in 1934; the Anstruther Wing housing rare books, was built at the rear of the 1920s book stack in 1995.
The design proposals aim to meet the demands of the Library’s natural growth - half a mile of new shelving every year - by increasing the overall book storage capacity of the building by 30%. The project has evolved from an analysis of the Library, its identity, its capacity and future needs. The main focus of the Library is the Victorian Reading Room, Issue Hall and 1890s book stack, and the whole site retains the feel of the bespoke, containing all the authentic idiosyncrasies of an historic institution.
The 21st Century poses fresh challenges, including the provision of more space for the collection, staff and members; the adoption of new technology; the conservation of book stocks; and improvements to the environmental conditions of the existing building. The overall scheme will resolve staff accommodation and bring together departments previously split across the site, relocating activities into more appropriate locations.
The recently completed Phase 2 works provide 42 new reader spaces and 1.25km of new shelving, a new conservation studio and new designated rooms for the Art Book Collection, Times Collection and Periodicals and Societies Collection, improved circulation with new lift and stairs, the remodelling of the main Issue Hall and the creation of a new members entrance from Mason’s Yard.