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London Library

Does anyone else love the smell of old books?

When we were little, my sister and I used to go to the library. It was a super small one since our town only had a couple of thousand people. Those poor books didn't get out much. 

My sister used to rummage through the children's section and smell her way to the good books (at least, according to her). She didn't care when it was made or who wrote it as long as it had the right smell. 

So much for judging a book by its cover. Clearly, whoever came up with that adage never smelled an old book.

While I've never been so blatant about literally sticking my nose into a book, I must admit a soft spot for that old book smell. What is it exactly? Paper? Glue? Leather? 

I can happily wander in an old library for hours, taking in the atmosphere.

By this time, I'm sure most of you lovely readers are wondering where in the world this is going. 

Let's get to the point. We're going deep into the shelves of one of the coolest old libraries that I've ever had the opportunity to explore: the London Library. 

As a part of the England 2012 trip that I took with the homeschool family I worked for at the time, we got day passes and a personal tour of this iconic literary spot. 


Our guide, one of the senior librarians, took us for a wander through just some of the library's fourteen miles (yes, you read that right) of shelving. 

Fun fact: during the Blitz, the library was only hit once by the German bombs. It nearly eliminated the philosophy and religion section, which seems all sorts of ironic to me. 
Bring me some bread and Diet Coke once a week and leave me be.
We were allowed up to see the reading rooms where very smart and studious people come to research and write. 

The other teacher and I were panicking because there's no talking allowed in these rooms...and we were with four very boisterous children. After reading them the riot act, we took them in one by one, glaring at each in turn the entire time. The five year old wanted to show us something but he didn't want to talk, so he tried to grunt instead. People turned to stare at us, and it was all we could do to trip over each other on our way out. 

Oh, the trials and tribulations of traveling with little ones. 

My favorite part of the London Library was the historical stuff. Not only did I find out that Virginia Woolf and Charles Dickens were members there, but I also got to see their membership sheets. On the membership sheets, each member's name and occupation is listed under the Library's rules and such. On Virginia Woolf's, it read:

"Name: Virginia Woolf
Occupation: Spinster."

I'm pretty sure that she was being funny as she was highly accomplished even from a young age. (Plus, she was married eventually.)

I had one of those moments of longing to move to London (funny how often I got those on this trip) when I found out that I, a mere commoner, could join the library. HOW CAN I MAKE THIS HAPPEN?!?!?

At the end of the tour, we all went into this conference room where these books were spread out across the table. On it were things beyond my wildest imagination. 

Including a Fourth Folio Shakespeare. A FOURTH FOLIO!

That's MR. William Shakespeare to you.
Notice how his name lacks the final 'e'? His name (like many other people's) didn't receive standardized spelling for another century or so.

(For all of you non-English nerds out there, a folio is a printing size. It's pretty big. The number in front of it--first, second, etc.--indicates the order of printing. So, a first folio is like a first edition. In other words, the book that I had mere inches from my fingers was a fourth edition printing of Shakespeare's entire collection. It dated to just a few years after his death!)

In a moment of insanity, the librarian guide allowed me to flip through the Fourth Folio, showing the students bits about the printing and plays. I could have died happy at that moment. It's not often that I get to casually look through a 17th century compilation of Shakespeare's works. 

For some, a trip to the London Library would be totally boring and a hideous waste of time. For me, it was book heaven, filled with magical opportunities and more books than I could read in a lifetime. And lots and lots of old book smell.