The London Library
"THE WORLD'S LARGEST INDEPENDENT LENDING LIBRARY"
The London Library was founded in 1841, as an independent subscription library designed to serve the needs of readers and scholars by lending books for use at home. It was not the first such subscription library, but it was the first to collect and offer more than new books for current needs, to provide the range of books spanning several centuries otherwise only available in major reference libraries.
The Library owes its foundation to the vision of Thomas Carlyle, who in many ways remains its tutelary genius. But he was not alone in his desire to establish an institution which would allow subscribers to enjoy something of the wealth of a national library for use in their own homes: the Earl of Clarendon, that enlightened early-Victorian politician, was the Library's first president, Thackeray its first auditor; Gladstone and Sir Edward Bunbury were on the first committee. Early members included Dickens and George Eliot. The Library's long-standing role at the centre of the intellectual life of the nation is reflected in the roll-call of its past presidents and vice-presidents, which include Tennyson, Kipling, T.S. Eliot, Rebecca West and Isaiah Berlin. The Library's current president is Tom Stoppard.
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Literary Encyclopedia: Circulating Libraries: " became an important cultural institution in Britain in the 1780s, doing much to enable the rising middle class to have access to a broad range of reading material, especially fiction. "
he first instances of lending books for money can be traced back as early as 1660s when there are records of booksellers allowing customers to borrow books for a fee as an alternative to outright purchase. Over time, it is believed, such booksellers began to differentiate their stock between titles for sale and titles for rent. The first recorded library dedicated to circulating books for a fee appears to have been that of Allan Ramsay, the Scottish poet, who rented books from his shop in Edinburgh in 1725.
The practice gained momentum and by the 1740s there were at least three circulating libraries operating in London. The term “circulating library” is first recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary as being used in a proposal by Samuel Fancourt, who had previously managed a library in Salisbury, to establish such a library in London in 1742.