City of Libraries

I would like to share with you my favourite aspect of studying of London, and take you on a tour around places, traditions and study habits; a tour around libraries.

Living in central London, I have a whole range of study spaces at my disposal. When deciding where to study, I can consider different variables: level of noise, amount of light, the amount of books surrounding me and the language they are in, not mentioning WiFi connection and opening hours… Depending on my state of mind, I eventually choose the place with the optimal degree of human presence. If I want to be alone with books, I hide into the Institute of Historical Research, where the chances are that after four hours of studying, I will meet one elderly bearded gentleman who with his bespectacled eyes carefully observes valuable historical sources that cannot be carried out of the room. If I happen to crave just slightly more people studying around, Senate House Library is the perfect choice. It is situated in the same impressive building towering above both UCL and SOAS, a building that is said to have been Hitler’s chosen headquarters in case he had conquered Britain.

While Senate House Library always amazes me by its monumentality and seemingly endless stack of books, Waterstones offers a much more homelike atmosphere. It is very hard to find a Waterstones bookshop with less than two floors, and the more the floors the higher likelihood of a few tables hidden in between books. A similarly welcoming space with the possibility to talk aloud, but nevertheless a generally productive atmosphere is offered by the Wellcome Collection’s Reading Room.

I naturally cannot omit UCL Libraries. According to the UCL website, there are 17 of them, ranging from historical to more modern ones. Czech readers will surely appreciate for example SSEES Library, mentioned in my last blog. Entering the Main Library at 9 am, I feel studious and diligent. Good morning, I say to the security. ‘Good morning, London,’ I get an answer from the BT Tower which is peering in through the window, as if checking the early risers who had made it here at this early morning hour. Around midday, students start pouring in in greater numbers, and finally, at around 2 to 5 pm, you can hardly find a seat. Even at 8 pm on a Saturday, the space seems to be fuller than on a weekday morning.

The highest concentration of students is undoubtedly found in the Student Centre. Grandiosely finished only last year, the most sustainable building in the UK offers 1,000 study spaces. Despite its popularity, there is a widespread feeling that the levels of students in surrounding libraries did not decrease with an outflow to the Student Centre, and the figures, I am told, will only worsen as exams get closer.

Of the limited number of English students whose study habits I could observe, all avoid studying at home. I wonder whether this is a cultural English thing, or just a symptom of living in an anonymous metropolis. What I am certain of is that libraries and collections in general are dear to the British culture. This attitude is embodied by Edward Edwards, who instigated the 1850 Public Libraries Act, Francis Bacon who with an enlightened enthusiasm developed a system of cataloguing books, Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome who decided to share the amassed objects from his travels through the Wellcome Trust mentioned above, but also in those I have met on the streets of London distributing books to the homeless, or those whose donated books had passed from their library into mine via Oxfam.

In many ways, library is an inspiration to me; it is organized, full of information, and selflessly offering these qualities to anyone who might need them; 24/7 – in case of London libraries.

BT Tower

Senate House Library



Město knihoven
Město knihoven
Město knihoven

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