Going to the library can bring back all sorts of childhood memories, whether discovering an incredible work of fiction that you lost countless days to, enjoying the peace and quiet, or studying hard with piles of books scattered around a desk. You don’t have to be an academic to enjoy a reading room, and there are several which are free to visit to explore their collections. One such great example is Lambeth Palace Library, the Church of England’s main repository of texts, set in a bold, modern-style red brick building close to the River Thames and South Bank. The library holds an incredible 130,000 items, including rare books, manuscripts, prints and periodicals, understandably focused on the Church, religion and other related subjects. To see what they have to offer, check out their Printed Books Catalogue.
Planning To Visit?
To start with, you’ll need to email the library in advance of your intended trip, stating the day you require a Reading Room spot. There are 12 spots available in total in the room per day. Library staff will get back to you with confirmation of the spot being available, and they’ll request you provide them with your name, address, email, phone, and a digital photo of yourself. Then you have the option of also booking a book in advance so that the book is ready and waiting when you arrive.
When You Arrive
When you arrive you’ll need to register in person at the desk on the right as you enter the main Entrance Hall/Lobby. You’ll need to show a photo ID (passport, driving licence, etc) and proof of address (recent bill, bank statement, etc). The staff are all very helpful, so it’s a very quick and easy process overall.
Then you’ll be taken through to the reading wing which is on the left of the main Entrance Hall. In this corridor, you’ll find rooms to the side including a Toilet, and a Common Room with complimentary water, tea and coffee. The Common Room is where you’ll need to put away your bag into a free locker, as no bags are allowed in the Reading Room.
After all that, you can finally enter the Reading Room. You’ll give your name to the staff at the desk and they’ll have any books ready for you, with a ‘cradle/cushion’ (to avoid damaging the spine). You’ll need to sign into the guest book, and sign a photo/reprographic form if you’re planning on taking photos (usually up to 10% of a book is allowed). For photography, no tripods or stands are permitted, and no flash may be used. You are not allowed to take in pens, pencils only. They’ll then escort you to your seat at one of the tables, and enjoy!
Guided tours are also available, and allow you to see the Reading Room, plus the impressive eighth-floor Conference Room/Terrace with its spectacular views across London at the top of the building (only accessible via the tour or other special events). Small regular exhibitions are available to view for free without booking, and can be found upstairs in the main Entrance Hall.
If you’re in the area, combine this visit with a trip to the Garden Museum, just on the other side of Archbishop’s Park and only a 5 minute walk away. On top of its garden and horticultural exhibits, it has an impressive medieval tower you can climb for impressive riverside views. Other nearby museums include the Florence Nightingale Museum and the Imperial War Museum.
How To Get There
The closest station is Lambeth North on the Bakerloo Line (8-min walk), followed by Waterloo with Northern, Jubilee, and National Rail services (10-min walk). Westminster (Jubilee, Circle, District) Station is a 12-minute walk across Westminster Bridge. The C10 and 77 buses stop outside, the 3, and 344 bus stops are close by on Lambeth Road (6-min walk), while the 11, 12, 148, 159, 211, 453 stop on Westminster Bridge Road (5-min walk).