You might not think that a library is the best place to spend some time when you’re in London, but my how wrong you would be. London has some of the best libraries in the world and their sheer beauty as well as their contents. Whether you’re doing research, looking for a great story, or want to delve further into the collections of the city’s museums, the libraries are the place to go. We have identified five of London’s libraries that we think you should visit. If we’ve left any out or you think there’s a place people have to see, let us know in the comments.
Shaped on the outside like an upside-down letter L, the Peckham Library is one of the most beautiful postmodern libraries in the city. It opened in 200 having won the Stirling Prize for its architectural design, with cantilever columns that lift it above the street, window placement that allows for wonderful natural reading light, and meeting pods that allow for privacy in a uniquely-designed space. What’s more, it has one of the best collections of African CDs and literature in all of London, so it’s certainly worth checking out for an enriching cultural experience.
The fabulous Maughan Library is a neo-Gothic building that was constructed in 1851 and today serves as the primary research library for King’s College London. It’s been part of KCL since 2001 when it took over the space from the Public Record Office and opened in 2003 after a £35 million renovation. Normally closed to anyone but students, faculty, and researchers, it is normally open to the public during Open House London. What’s worth seeing are the Weston Room that was partly formed out of Rolls Chapel and the twelve-sided reading room that featured in the film adaptation of The Da Vinci Code.
National Art Library, Victoria & Albert Museum
If you love art, this is the number one library to check out in London. The National Art Library is tucked away in the museum in a gorgeous room befitting a museum dedicated to art and design. Its collective works are dedicated to furthering the museum’s mission, and you can find even more materials on fashion, textiles, sculpture, tile, and more on the library’s shelves. To be able to read anything in the library, you’ll need to join and provide a picture ID. However, all materials must remain in the library and cannot be checked out, so be sure to set some time away to get in all your research during your visit.
If you want to learn about the history of London, the Guildhall Library is one of the best places to do it. The Guildhall is home to the local government for the City of London (as opposed to Greater London), and it has over 200,000 artefacts dating back centuries and includes contributions by influential Londoners including John Wilkes, Thomas More, and Samuel Pepys. Its collection also includes libraries and manuscripts of the old city’s many guilds and livery companies.
*THE* number one research library in the United Kingdom and amongst the top in the world, the British Library is a repository for every work ever published in the country. It was created out of the British Museum in 1973 and holds over 150 million items including such rare works as the Magna Carta. The only caveat to the museum is that you have to be a resident of the UK to access the reading rooms; however, the library does offer tours of its collections, and exhibits and the public areas of the library can be accessed by anyone.