7 Of London's Best Libraries

Hari Mountford
By Hari Mountford Last edited 32 months ago
7 Of London's Best Libraries
The Wolfston Reading Room at The Weiner Library. Photo: The Weiner Library

When it comes to book havens, there's much more to London than the British Library (fantastic though that is). Hidden away down side streets, and often specialising in quirky fields, London's many libraries are sanctuaries of peace amidst the buzz of the city. Channel your inner bookworm and make time to visit some of the most interesting and unique libraries in London.

Bishopsgate Institute Library

Bishopsgate Institute Library. Photo: EZTD

Bishopsgate Institute, just opposite Liverpool Street station, is a popular place to go if you want to learn a language or attend a history course, but the library, which is free to use, is a little-known hub of London knowledge. As well as having an impressive domed ceiling, the library houses collections and archives on London's history, focusing on protests and socialism. There is also a large LGBT history collection, in addition to regularly changing photographic displays.

Guildhall Library

If you want to find out more about London's most famous diarist, head to Guildhall Library, where Samuel Pepys is a specialism. Alternatively, special collections on food and wine may whet your appetite for a change of career to a sophisticated sommelier. The library of the International Wine and Food Society, which is based there, contains student materials for the 'Masters of Wine' examination — we're guessing revision for this could prove quite messy.

National Art Library

National Art Library. Photo: V&A

Within the cultural beacon of the Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Art Library is a major public reference library focused on fine and decorative art from all over the world. The space it occupies is as artistic as the collections it contains, with a balcony overlooking the main study section, and stunning arched windows. The library is also the V&A's curatorial department for the art and design of the book — just don't judge any by their covers.

Wiener Library

The Wiener Library is perhaps one of the more sombre of London's offerings, but hugely enlightening and of great importance. Dedicated to all things Holocaust-related, this library off Russell Square is free to visit. The open-access materials are available to examine, and special documents, fragile photographs and rare books can be viewed on request. Founded in 1933, The Wiener Library includes over a million items which aim to oppose prejudice and intolerance.

Highgate Library

Highgate Library. Photo: Geoff Holland

This public library run by Camden Council (not to be confused with Highgate Library run by Haringey Council) looks more like a museum from the outside, but be reassured that it does in fact contain an awful lot of books. With free wifi, computers, and all the latest newspapers and periodicals to read at your leisure, Highgate Library ticks all the boxes.

If you're missing your local Blockbuster and still want to rent a DVD, there's a decent collection of new films and timeless classics. Otherwise, regress a few years and settle down with a Roald Dahl story in the separate and specialised Children's Library, which also provides regular free events for kids.

The Poetry Library

Inside The Poetry Library. Photo: The Poetry Library

If verse is more your cup of tea, this library is for you. Housed in Southbank Centre, London's Poetry Library provides a comprehensive guide to British poetry from 1912 to the present day. Whether you're keen on Wilfred Owen or Kate Tempest, the Tuesday - Sunday library also hosts regular events and readings.

The majority of the library's writing workshops are free or very reasonable, and offer the chance to explore your poetic side whilst wistfully looking out at the snaking river below.

BFI Reuben Library

Photo: BFI Reuben Library

Film buffs and cinema fanatics should take a visit to the library inside the BFI Southbank building. Spanning the history of cinema, with a focus on the moving image in Britain, the BFI Reuben Library started off as a small collection of books on film in 1934, before expanding and moving to the riverside location in 2012. Free to use and open to everyone regardless of IMDB knowledge or hours of television watched, this is the perfect place for a pre-cinema swot up.

Last Updated 16 August 2017