The Leeds Library is a wonderful mix of the old and the new located at the very heart of a busy shopping quarter.
Founded in 1768, The Leeds Library is a gem of a heritage library and the oldest surviving subscription library of its kind in the British Isles. We have a fascinating history. We’re Leeds’s oldest cultural institution—a thriving hub of creativity, ideas and inspiration and a book lover’s paradise!
Amongst our founding members were eminent doctors, surgeons, clergymen, leading industrialists and businessmen, alongside members of The Royal Society. Revd Dr Joseph Priestley, our first secretary and most likely the primary driving force behind the Library’s creation, was perhaps the most famous of these men. A leading enlightenment thinker, radical preacher, and Fellow of The Royal Society, Priestley was celebrated for his experiments concerning electricity and oxygen—and the invention of carbonated water!
In the beginning, the Library occupied a back room at Joseph Ogle’s bookshop on Kirkgate and he became the first librarian. When he died in 1774, his daughter, Mary, was appointed Librarian and remained so for another 37 years until her death in 1813. Over this period, the Library proved to be so successful that it outgrew this modest first home and moved further along Kirkgate to the Rotation Office. A few years later and a move to new premises was required once again to house the ever-growing collection of books. In 1808, the Library moved to a new purpose-built home on Commercial Street where we remain to this day. Built by Thomas Johnson, the town’s leading architect, the grade II* listed building is a rare surviving example of a Georgian public library.
Alongside our historical collection the Library has an up-to-date collection of modern literature, travel books, biographies, history and other non-fiction totalling more than 140,000 items. Members can access daily newspapers, magazines, films on DVD, music, and a variety of online archives, academic journals and databases.
We are particularly rich in travel, topography, biography, history and literature. There are long runs of periodicals, popular novels, children’s books and Civil War pamphlets and Reformation Tracts. About 1,500 new books and audio/visual items are added every year most of which are recommended by our Members. A large proportion of the Library’s holdings is available for loan to Members. A friendly and personal service from our expert staff means you are never far from the right information or your next great read.
Today the Leeds Library remains a fully functional membership library at the heart of Leeds city centre, with a vision that has grown to reflect the needs of an enquiring and diverse 21st century audience. We became a charity in 2008 and have worked harder than ever since then to unlock the Library and our treasures to as wide and diverse an audience as we possibly can. We are a warm and welcoming space with friendly and knowledgeable staff. We also host a broad-ranging programme of live and digital events aimed at all ages and backgrounds. Whether it is a talk, a workshop, a book launch or live theatre, there’s something for everyone here. Come and talk to us to find out more.
If you would like to become a Member, we offer Individual, Household, Concessionary, Remote and Access memberships. For more information on joining us, click here.
For the book and heritage lovers in your life, we also offer Gift Membership to the Library, a unique gift which lasts all year round.
250 Years Old and Counting!
2018 was our 250th year and alongside a year long programme of events, we celebrated this milestone anniversary with a Dinner, held a 3 day academic conference which attracted delegates and speakers from all over the world and published a commemorative book that looks at how The Leeds Library, the country’s oldest subscription library of its type, has grown and prospered since its beginnings in 1768.
Through the Pages, 250 Years of The Leeds Library, costs £30.00 + £5 p/p and can be ordered here.