May 16, 2022

Report/Video from UK: The 250-Year-Old Subscription Library Thriving in a Digital World (The Leeds Library)

From the BBC:

The Leeds Library is the oldest surviving subscription library of its type in the UK, with its 140,000 books ranging from crumbling Victorian novels to the latest Robert Galbraith best seller. As the cultural hidden gem celebrates its 250th year, the BBC pays a visit to see how it attempts to protect its legacy while staying relevant to an increasingly distracted audience.


Subscription libraries became a common feature of towns and cities in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, at a time when there were no public libraries and only a handful of university libraries.

As books were increasing in popularity but were expensive to buy, groups of people combined their funds to form libraries useful each day and “of increasing value in the future”, according to the Independent Libraries Association.

Along with most of the other private libraries at the time, The Leeds Library was predominantly a place for the middle classes, with membership capped at 500 people.

Trustees admit it remained this way right up until 2008 when the library became a charity, doubling its membership in the process.


A yearly membership currently costs £132, or £66 for people aged between 18 and 25.

Read the Complete Article, View Multiple Pictures (via BBC)

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.