If you take the time to stop and soak up your surroundings, it’s amazing what you can find. Nestled among the retailers, banks and travel agents found on Commercial Street, is one of these little hidden gems.
Find the right spot, look up and (depending on the strength of your eyesight) if you squint a little, through the large windows you will catch a glimpse of the spiral staircases and leather bound books of independent, Leeds Library. This peaceful oasis from city centre life houses over 150,000 books, all of which have been chosen by its member since it was founded in 1768.
The result? A treasure trove of books with titles which will make anyone a little bit giddy. Yes, there’s the standard classics but these staples share the shelves with much weirder and wonderful counterparts. Walk along the rows and books on Aztec tribes, essays on laughter and even experiments on vegetables will all shout out at you, wishing you to discover the odd work inside.
Chief Executive of The Leeds Library, Andrew Morrison, explains what makes an independent library such an exciting prospect:
“It’s quite nice to be an independent Library because you can be different. We don’t have any political agenda, we’re not trying to be big. We’re just trying to be open about what we’ve got and allow people to use it in a very exciting way.”
“If you look around you it’s full of dull brown spines but it isn’t the books that are important at all, it’s the words that are in them and you would be amazed how many things that were published in the past that people have never heard about.
We found a book the other day which talked about time travel which was written in 1900. Nobody has ever heard of it. It is a sequel to H.G. Wells, The Time Machine but its set in Leeds and it’s a tiny little pamphlet. It’s a really nice little publication by somebody from Leeds in 1900 about what will happen in the future, all the way up to 1996.
Now nobody has ever heard of that, it isn’t very important in the grand scheme of things but actually if you are looking at time travel and Leeds, it’s great. It’s a really nice little thing and sometimes it’s those oddities which are the most exciting and creative pieces, you know not the big famous novels. It’s those little independent things, published by independents.
Any book less than 100 years old members can take out and take home, any book over 100 years old they can have access to. There are no rules, white gloves or special collections, if any member wants to access any book, then they can do.
That’s the other thing about being an independent library, we are here for the members and they can have access to anything and look at them. It’s meant to be very open and a creative resource for people, whether they get inspiration from reading it or asking themselves “what does that mean!”