The Literary and Philosophical Society Library, or the Lit & Phil as it is commonly known, is a subscription library near Newcastle's Central Station. It is the largest library of its kind outside of London which boasts the illustrious London Library. Unlike the London Library, access to the Lit & Phil is truly public; yes, if you want to be able to borrow books you need to become a paying member, but if you would like to use the books on the premises then you can walk in off the street, mount the grand staircase up to the first floor and the library entrance, spend a couple of hours reading and even enjoy a cup of tea or coffee.
One of the first aims of the Society, set up in 1793, was to establish a library. Initially, the creation of the collection relied on gifts and donations and the majority of the books dealt with scientific themes. As the collection grew the subjects held by the library increased to include travel writing, geography, history, biography, poetry, classics and architecture. A decision was taken very early on not to buy novels for the collection, but this decision was later overturned and the library now holds a large selection of literary and popular fiction.
Until 1811 the collection was catalogued by size of book into the following four categories: folios, octavos, quartos and duodecimos. In that year the library attempted cataloguing the collection according to subject matter. The library relocated to its current premises in 1825, and by that time the library held 8,000 volumes, by 1989 they had 130,000 volumes and today the library boasts a collection of 150,000. I was intrigued to learn that the Lit & Phil began using the Dewey Decimal Classification in 1887 (this seems very early and I am still trying to find out where Dewey was first used in the UK).
|The enquiry desk in the main library, taken from the Upper Gallery.|
|The James Knott Reading Room seen from the Upper Gallery.|
|I was not brave enough to try these stairs.|
|The roof of the Main Library|
"Knowledge like fire, is brought forth by collision."The quotation is not referenced in the text. Does anyone know to whom this quotation is attributed?
The Lit & Phil continues to offer opportunities to learn, discuss and debate with their public events. In the near future they will feature: lectures about the solar system, the railways, architecture and folk music concerts and piano recitals.
If you are in the North East of England the Lit & Phil is certainly worth a visit.