Monday, April 26, 2010



So I was supposed to be in Ireland this week, but for volcano reasons, it didn't work out.

Gutted wasn't the word for it.

No, determined not to have my week spoiled may have been the better phrase.

Luckily I ended up having the best and most productive time ever writing in different reference libraries around London. As well as editing a poetry collection, I wanted to find out more about two things - pain and garden extravagance. The two are not necessarily linked!

Monday = The London Library.

Bit of a cheat this one, because I am a member already, but it eased me gently into the week and I planned my schedule. Anyway, this one won on the noise of snoring fellow readers, and magazines I wanted to read. It is, also, the only one I had to pay for.

Tuesday = The Wellcome Library in Euston Road. Brilliant selection of books on every kind of medical matter you might want to look up. Also, fantastic cafe. There was no entry fee, I had to provide identification and a reason for wanting to research but the librarians couldn't have been more helpful, not even blinking when I said I wanted to find out more about pain. A great online resources for images too, including this one of the smallest medical chest ever.

Wednesday = First library fail. The British Library had little, if any, space left even though I am a reader there. The librarians said it was full now by 10.30 am, and it felt crowded and stuffy. Not what I was looking for so I made my way to the RHS Lindley Library in Vincent Square, Pimlico. It was a beautiful day and I sat on the steps for a bit watching small schoolboys play cricket in a pitch in the middle of the square. Sometimes it's hard to believe you are in London. To use this library you have to be a member of the RHS, but if you're interested in plants and gardens or garden history at all, then oh boy, are you in for a treat. Members can borrow books from here too. No cafe.

Thursday = National Art Library in the Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington. Thanks to twitter for this suggestion, it was possibly the best library to work in ever.

I had no problem getting a library card, in fact the librarians were interested and helpful in what I wanted to look up. I had to order any books I wanted to study on the hour, and they came approximately 45 mins later, but I had brought my own work with me and sitting in the surroundings (above) was positively inspiring. Great cafes in the Museum, good people watching, and best atmosphere. How had I not known about this before? Reference only.

Friday = RIBA Library in Portland Place.

I wasn't sure I was going to be allowed into this one, but in the end it couldn't have been easier or nicer. I was signed in immediately as a day guest - no one asked why I wanted to work there. There were plenty of desks free, and as it happened, my table was exactly near the shelves I wanted to explore - garden buildings and follies. As you might imagine, perfect people watching, and a great, great cafe. Reference only.

Any suggestions for further libraries will be gratefully received, but in the meantime, if you are looking for somewhere different to write and research, my top three were:

a) The Wellcome Library

b) The National Art Library

c) RIBA Library

And I haven't even started exploring the public libraries yet...

ps I didn't do this but wish I had ...


JJ Beattie said...

The V&A and Wellcome libraries were regular haunts when I was an art student. I'm not sure I could choose my favourite...

Brilliant that there are some more to explore.

Alex said...

It's a bit out of your way, but the Codrington in Oxford is marvellous. Also Radcliffe Camera.

brokenbiro said...

I never noticed this before I got offered a job in a library, but there's a rich stream of what I'm going to call 'library porn' out there - and this is a prime example. Gorgeous!

Anne Welsh said...

Great post, Sarah! Really glad you had an inspiring week and a warm welcome in all these special collections. Let me know the next time you're Wellcome-ing and we can maybe do peppermint tea and cake in the cafe :)



What a resource these libraries are, JJ! And free too. Amazing.
Alex, nope not too far - will try that. A train AND library = bliss.


And ha, Clare - I had been thinking about calling this post 'library porn' in fact, but wasn't that keen on the type of googlers it might attract! And of course, Tell Me Everything features what the blurb calls 'a lusty librarian', my favourite character in it actually!

SueG said...

What a great idea! I always say I'm going to do something like this, but I never actually do it. And there were some of these I'd never heard of or had imagined I could use. I just joined the Wellcome Library on-line, but have I actually gone to work there yet?????

Ted said...

I love the Wellcome center! (And their bookstore, truth be known).

mary said...

Have you ever been in the library up in the dome of the Imperial War Museum?


Ted, next time you come we will have tea at the Wellcome together and go wild in the bookshop. And oh oh oh Mary, I didn't know about that and it sounds wonderful. Am off to investigate now.