Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The London Library

Today we went to the London Library. Established in 1841, the London Library is an independent instituion funded primarily by member subscriptions. With former members including Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, Arthur Conan Doyle and Charles Darwin, the library has a strong literary history. Unlike libraries that use the Dewey or LC classification system, the London Library has a system that is entirely unique. Sir Charles Hagberg Wright, the librarian from 1893-1940, divided the collection into major subject areas and then alphabetized the works by the author's last name, or by title for edited works.

One interesting aspect of the library is that once a book is obtained, it stays. They never get rid of anything with the exception of duplicate copies of the same edition of a book. This creates obvious problems where space is concerned. Another problem is conservation. As the librarians emphasized, they are a library and not a museum. Thus, it's only the rarest and oldest of materials that are not allowed to be checked out. Everything else can go home with patrons. As a result, the library has a dedicated conservation department that repairs and maintains the books. This effort includes binding or rebinding around 4,500 books per year.

After the library, some classmates and I got dinner at a place called The Slug and Lettuce, which despite it's unappetizing name, had really good food. Later in the evening, I went with a group of people to see We Will Rock You, which is a silly musical featuring the music of Queen. While the storyline was ridiculous, the music was fantastic (it's Queen, after all) and the crowd was really into it. At the end of the show, the actors took their bows and a large screen on stage came on and read "You want to hear Bohemian Rhapsody?" (the song still hadn't been performed). The crowd went nuts. The screen changed, reading "Oh, alright then." At which point the cast came back out to perform "Bohemian Rhapsody". The audience went wild. Despite the ridiculousness of the story, it was a really fun show.

Image courtesy of ianvisits.co.uk

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