Swiss Cottage Library

Swiss Cottage 5c

A recent trip to London for a book launch at the British Library allowed me an opportunity to visit Swiss Cottage Library. This is the central library for the London Borough of Camden. It was built in 1964 to a design by Basil Spence and underwent a clean and interior improvements in 2003.

It is an oval building with two circles at either end; fiction and arts at one end and CDs and science at the other end. In between there is an art gallery, the children’s library, a learning centre, the magazine reading room and a cafe.

Each circular end has two spiral staircases leading to a mezzanine. There were bookcases all round the walls and coming out in spokes. Each divided area had a desk populated by a reader or two. The design allows lots of light in without having to sacrifice wallspace to windows.

The children’s library, according to Wikipedia, was designed by Laura Ford who took her inspiration from Ordnance Survey maps and it certainly is green but I can see how it would help kids’ imaginations soar.

Swiss Cottage 3

Guildhall and City Business Libraries


It strikes me as quite strange to have one entrance and then one library on the ground floor and a library with a different name on the floor above, but I realise there’s a history there.

City Business Library. Image: Philafrenzy on Wikimedia

The Guildhall Library’s website explains it best:

In 2009-2010 the Library was transformed again with the former Printed Books section forming the nucleus of the Library you see today. The Prints and Maps and Manuscripts sections moved to London Metropolitan Archives but some major manuscript collections are still housed at Guildhall. Guildhall Library now shares a building with the City Business Library, so users can now move very readily between current and historical business resources as well as having access to the Internet and the Department’s extensive range of online resources. In fact the City Business Library, once called the Commercial Reference Room, has returned to its original home: first housed at Guildhall Library it moved to Basinghall Street in 1970 and later to Brewers’ Hall Garden.

The new Guildhall Library is a major public reference library, very connected with its past, holding a wide range of important works and sources including: a comprehensive collection of printed books on the City of London and its history, the Lloyds Marine Collection, a large collection of pamphlets from the 17th – 19th centuries covering political and social issues, a complete run of the London Gazette from 1665 to the present, extensive parliamentary resources including eighteenth-century poll books and a complete set of House of Commons papers from 1740, broadsides and an unrivalled collection of local and trade directories from 1677 to the present.

They’ve got a good blog at about their exhibitions and events with pictures:


Kensington Central Library

Wood. My first impression was wood. Proper wooden bookcases, wood covered pillars, wood tables, wooden window seats – even the lift is hidden behind wooden doors. It does make the library look quite grand.


The ground floor has the lending library and an area sectioned off for the children’s library. Upstairs is a large reference library, plenty of computers and a local studies area partitioned by a glass wall. There is a third floor which appears to be rented out to 2 companies.

The tub chairs have wheels on them which I’ve never seen before.


I was so comfortable here that I actually joined and used a computer for an hour! The staff were very helpful and patient.

Hammersmith Central Library

Hammersmith Library was swathed in scaffolding. But despite the noise and disruption was still full of people. The children’s library looked inviting.

There were plenty of terminals and desks – although all in use. A reading room with local studies and reference material was housed upstairs plus a quiet reading room. I couldn’t go into the reading room as I had bags and did not want to disobey the sign telling me to put them in the locker! The upstairs landing had some special wooden bookcases full of William Morris books. There were some beautiful stained glass windows too.



Wood Green Central Library

Wood Green

I came out of the tube station and there was a sign for the library (perfect – who needs Google maps now, ha!). I had to remind myself that I consider myself a Londoner as I negotiated the hustle and bustle of the traffic and the drunks outside the station.

A short walk down the road and then there is a rather clear LIBRARY sign. It looks like it’s supposed to look like it’s made of paper and it is striking but it could do with a good clean.

The library seems to be off the side of the shopping centre entrance.

A large area was shielded off with signs apologising for building work. This was part of a project to bring the Council’s customer service centre on site and opened about a week after I visited.  I could see the lending library bookstacks and an area with tables that looked more like plastic café seating rather than a study area. A large group of people were chatting loudly that may have been a community meeting of some sort. The library was full of people and lots of bustling activity.

Islington Central Library

I have one word – turquoise.

Islington Central Library should have been a short walk from the tube but I went the wrong way – twice. When I found it I entered from a modern entrance on the side street but it is actually quite an old building (built in 1906) on Holloway Road.

The end of the bookcases were covered in fabric, possibly to make them also function as noticeboard. The fabric was turquoise. The library is on three floors: lending library on the ground floor, children’s library on the second floor and reference on the third floor.

An area of the ground floor has a full height ceiling which is ornate but at some point the detailing has been painted – turquoise! And again on the third floor.

There were plenty of people in the library, studying, looking through the books and on the computers on the ground floor and in the reference library. There was a security guard sitting in the reference library watching over the computer users.

These types of signs look decidedly old fashioned now:

The children’s library on the 1st floor looked really good but it had automatic doors so I didn’t feel I could go in as I didn’t have any kids with me. It had a more modern colour scheme so I can only assume that it has been refurbished recently.



Westminster Reference Library


Julia Mason uprooted

Julia Mason – Uprooted


I have referred people to this library many times but never actually been myself.

As I had some time to kill in London before going to see Dara O’Briain it seemed like a perfect opportunity.

Despite the aid of Google maps I walked round in circles a couple of times before I found it. It was obscured by some building work out front. But if I’d actually looked up instead of at my phone I would have noticed a flag with “Library” on it!

This was a good old fashioned library on 3 floors with the traditional municipal staircase handrails and floors. Drunks being told to talk quietly, people needing help with the internet from some very patient staff. Some slightly smelly customers but also students studying amongst the art and drama books.

There were plenty of community leaflets and posters and a couple of displays. One small display case attracted my attention and has proved very memorable. A piece of work by Julia Mason called Uprooted (main picture above). Absolute gem in a rather tucked away library.

Oct 2015