I know what you’re thinking.
I thought the same thing!
“Wow, that last blog entry was so good, is there any chance that Tim and Lauren could come close to making a better one?”
Allow me to answer that question with my own: “Was Lincoln Inn’s Library built in 1845 and still standing as one of the oldest libraries in London?”
The answer to both these questions is an unequivocal and emphatic YES.
(Unfortunately, Lincoln’s Inn does not allow photos to be taken within the library so this will now be a solid chunk of text but it will all be worth it, we assure you.)
That’s right, loyal librarians. Our most recent visit took us on a whirlwind tour of the Lincoln’s Inn library (LIL from now on). After getting a little disorientated in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, with the help of some kind gardeners, we managed to get to the library just before the heavens opened. Lincoln’s Inn is one of four Inn’s of Court located in London (the other three being Gray’s Inn, Middle Temple and Inner Temple) and is an institution that all aspiring barristers much register with during their studies. They may also carry on their membership upon qualifying and enjoy being part of the community. Access to their library is restricted to members only, so we can consider ourselves very privileged to be able to have a look around!
Our knowledgeable guide was Rose Hubbard, one of their own graduate trainees.
We weren’t allowed to take photos of the interior, but it really was stunning. There are lots of portraits of various members, and you could definitely feel the history and tradition of the Inn (we were told that the Inn is believed to have originated around the 1300s, as this is when the first references to it appeared). In the dining room, where only members and their guests as well as staff can eat, the top table is reserved for benched members. These would be members who have either contributed to the Inn in a significant way, or a member who has had significant professional success, and they essentially form a council which oversees the day-to-day running, if my understanding was correct. Apparently, when a new member joins the bench, they are supposed to be dragged to the top table as in the past you had to pay for the privilege…so nobody wanted to be benched because they didn’t want to pay! We were told that while some get really into this and go all out to ‘resist’, most only put up a token effort now.
As for the library itself, it really did feel a world away from our own recently refurbished library. There are stained glass windows and high ceilings, with 2 levels of galleries. There is no real classification system, and the vast majority of the books are bound in a traditional manner – it looked a little like Harry Potter!
One of the unique features of LIL in contrast to other libraries we have visited (and our own) is that it is exclusively a reference library. There is no borrowing (except for some very strict late evening overnight loans which must be returned immediately the next day) of books. Also, unlike the RCN with our plushy office desks, the library staff at LIL are all based within the library itself with an “office” space behind the front desk. Rose explained that in the name of fairness (and perhaps sanity), the front desk is worked on a rotational basis.
They also retain popular books behind the front desk so they can keep track of them and they are signed out to users as and when they need them. They follow the practice of loose leafing in some cases, which is where individual pages are replaced from books and volumes, rather than buying whole new editions each time a book is reprinted with minor changes. This is because there are so many regular updates to pieces of legislation, that it is far easier to just replaced amended sections than to reprint the entire text with every change – and also cheaper, one would assume.
Each of the four Inn’s has its own speciality as it were and for Lincoln’s Inn Library, that specialty is Commonwealth materials and Parliamentary papers.
The bulk of their collection is made up of law reports and legislative texts. They also have access to two main legal databases which are only accessible within the library by using specific computers on the ground floor. We were told this is to prevent people from introducing viruses to the computers and if people are looking to do typing-based work, they have separate computers available on the upper floor with a 1.5 hour limit per user. These computers are booked in half hour slots, and at the moment are a little tricky to get to as they are up some very twisty spiral stairs that were a little hidden – although there may well be an easier route up than the way we went!
Development will soon be taking place as they are running out of room in the library (a running theme for all libraries we seem to visit) and they also plan to install a lift allowing better disabled access. In their basement, they store all editions of legislation which has since changed and also collect their rare older books locked away. There were also lots of items related to various Commonwealth countries, and some countries (we were told) that no longer existed in that particular state. As they are not a rare book/historical library, they aren’t too bothered about keeping these books in perfect condition and preserving them.
Most importantly, they have a library cat. Not a real cat, but a very realistic replica. Other than being a bit of light-hearted library folklore, Mrs. Chippy is used to promote social media on occasion and is named after Mrs. Chippy – the real cat that accompanied Sir Arthur Shackleton on the Imperial Trans-Atlantic Expedition between 1914-1917. No one seemed to know the connection.
After our tour we met Catherine McArdle and went and had some drinks in a bar/café area with a lovely vaulted ceiling and had a good old chin wag about libraries, life and the future. Catherine told us she has been working at Lincoln’s Inn Library for 28 years and said one of the reasons she has stayed there so long is that due to type of library it is, no day ever feels the same.
After this, we went on our merry way into the rain to mull over the day’s events.
Thank you for reading.
Lots of love.
Tim and Lauren.