I had never heard of the London Library, but an article by Nancy Mattoon makes it sound like a very attractive place:
The London Library bills itself as “a university library for people who are no longer at university.” It is the largest independent lending library in the world, with over one million books and periodicals housed on some 15 miles of open-access shelves. Over 95% of the collection may be freely browsed, and 97% is available for loan. The central tenet of the library is that since “books are never entirely superseded, and therefore never redundant, the collections should not be weeded of material merely because it is old, idiosyncratic or unfashionable: except in the case of exact duplication, almost nothing has ever been discarded from the library’s shelves.” This has resulted in a library chock-full of books, ten floors of them and growing, with another half-mile of shelving required every three years. And all of this in a library that has been located in the same London townhouse on posh St. James Square since 1845.
Read all about the history (it was founded by Thomas Carlyle, who was pissed off at the British Library’s “closed stacks and non-circulating collection”) and careful remodeling of this London institution. And they’ve got a very nice website, too. The catch? It’s members-only, and very expensive (according to Wikipedia, £395 a year—
the library’s own site seems to take the attitude that if you have to ask, you can’t afford it). But I’m glad it exists; I understand why ordinary libraries feel they have to get rid of so many books, but I still hate the practice and am glad there is a holdout.