When I was a member of the National Theatre Company in 1979, working with Michael Kustow on performances of a speculative re-ordering of the published sequence of Shakespeare's sonnets, I was impressed by the number of arcane publications on the subject that he was able to lay his hands on, all distinguished by an elegant little red label saying “London Library”. I'd somehow never heard of the place. Kustow promised to take me along, and if I liked it to propose me for membership. To say that I liked it is a feeble understatement: I felt, in an almost literal sense, that I had come home. It was the Tate Library apotheosised. The building is discreetly tucked into a corner of St James's Square; the front doors used to give directly on to the reception area, filled with leather-bound catalogues and wooden bookcases going up to the high ceiling, with a phalanx of librarians toiling over returns, filling in dockets for books being withdrawn, dispensing the while erudite bibliographical information. There was nothing epic about this space: it was human and intimate and private, a sort of book brothel where all special needs and tastes could be catered to. Book located, one would penetrate into the library proper, where the real romance begins.Two further observations:
1. My English grandfather purchased a lifetime membership to the London Library in the early 1950s. He was very pleased when he contemplated (he lived well into his 90s) what good value for money he'd obtained thereby, but my frugal grandmother grumbled that there really should be a way for him to pass it on to me, perhaps in his will!
2. One of the best novels I have ever read about a librarian is Garth Nix's lovely Lirael; it is also just one of my favorite novels of all time, librarianship regardless.