More updates soon!

Sorry for the complete absence of activity over the last few months – have been focussing on finishing rewrites. Will soon have them sent off, and then already have a few more places lined up to talk about! Carnegie Library, Chelsea Old Town Hall, Conway Hall… the list goes on (for about two more).

As usual, please send me any suggestions so I can publish them to the world and ruin your writing haven forever.

x

Bethnal Green Library

Website www.ideastore.co.uk/bethnal-green-library
Nearest tubes  Bethnal Green; Cambridge Heath; Stepney Green.
Opening hours Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday : 10.00-18.00
Thursday : 10.00-20.00
Saturday : 09.00-17.00
Sunday : Closed.
Internet access Bizarrely difficult WiFi system; 8 computers.
Chances of getting a seat Very good – tables and deskspaces throughout.
Pros Beautiful; quiet; warm.
Cons Weird internet; depressing study area; a bit mad.

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Head to the park next to Bethnal Green station and you’ll see a promenade leading to a massive red building. It’s hard to work out it’s a library until you’re right next to it – it’s an unusual building for the area, which is mainly shops and new builds. There aren’t many good places to work around here – this one is part of an “Ideas Store” scheme that aims to act as free workspaces for the community.

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The inside is absolutely beautiful. It sort of feels like they’ve dumped a library inside a massive Victorian pub. It’s built in several sections that all come off the central desk: a big adult library, a really good children’s library (with it’s own librarian!) and separate study area. The study area, while it has the only sockets and some adjustable chairs, is a bit bleak – I considered working here for a bit but then gave up. It’s obviously there as a free service for the community to use, which is great, but it felt too much like working in a sixth form common room.

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The adult library is the place to go. It’s spacious and stunning. There are pillars and plaques. There are a few tables hidden around bookshelves where you can comfortably get work done, and some sofas as well. There’s a water dispenser and a photocopier you can use. There’s also the only toilet, which is locked – you have to ask for the key at the desk, which is a bit humiliating.

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There’s also the issue of internet connection. There are 8 computers, which are members only – you need to register with the library to use them. If you want to use the WiFi, you don’t just use a password – you get given a sheet which details an unbelievably complicated process of altering proxies and renewing DCS licences. Which, in my case, didn’t even work. I asked the librarian what I was doing wrong – she didn’t know. I asked what I could do that would mean I could use the internet – she didn’t know. Oh well.

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I want to go back and see if it was just an issue on the day, because otherwise this was a really nice place to get work done. Behind the shelves I felt like I’d been squirrelled away and no one knew I was there. I could listen in on the mums shouting at their children, and people asking the librarian for help from the other end of the library. Which, yes, is pretty distracting – but if you work like I do, you welcome all the distraction you can get.

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Reuben Library, BFI

Website www.bfi.org.uk/education-research/bfi-reuben-library
Nearest tubes Waterloo; Embankment; Charing Cross.
Opening hours Sunday, Monday : Closed.
Tuesday – Saturday : 10.30-19.00
Internet access Free WiFi, 9 computers.
Chances of getting a seat Gets very busy.
Pros Individual workspaces with lamps; lockers; silent.
Cons Seriously busy; registration required; a bit “cool”.

The South Bank is chock-full with amazing free stuff to do, but notably lacking in quiet and comfortable places where you can sit down for a while. Royal Festival Hall would be an amazing place to get work done if it had tables, or if it wasn’t filled with screaming children most of the time. The Saison Poetry Library is also incredible – it probably has one of the best desk views in London – but it’s tiny, and they’re really strict about people visiting for any other reason than using the collection. Instead, head to the main desk in the BFI, and find the Reuben Library on the left hand side.

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I had no idea this was here until someone mentioned it on Twitter, despite having visited the BFI about a billion bloody times. It seemed like I was the only person left in London who didn’t know about it – the Reuben Library is small, and good, and useful, and so quite understandably it’s almost always rammed. It’s also got a really, really good collection on film – obviously.

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The library itself is one small room split into three sections: one with about six large desks, another with nine computer terminals, and the last with 24 individual workspaces. You’re most likely to find a spot on one of the larger desks, sharing with some other people. The computers get pretty busy because they have scanners and printers – it’s 20p per sheet, which is much better than a lot of internet cafes. You have to register to use them, which is a pain, but then you also have to register to use the main attraction: the INDIVIDUAL WORKSPACES.

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This is the main reason people come here. They look like you’ll get absolutely loads done on them. They have sockets and lamps. LAMPS! It doesn’t matter, because you’ll never get one in a million years. But if, like me, you decide to hover around like a bad smell until someone gets nervous and leaves, then you can register at the desk to use one. Warning: you have to do this EVERY TIME. You’ll also need to leave your stuff in a locker around the corner. This is actually brilliant – the lockers have keys, and the room they’re in is only accessible with a keycard you get from the library desk, so there’s no chance of anyone stealing your ham sandwich or copy of Metro.

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Then finally – finally! – you can start work. The internet here is fast, and the individual booths really do seem to help you focus. It’s also unusually quiet, despite the busyness and the small size of the room. At times though, I almost found it too quiet – even a bit tense. I couldn’t quite work it out. At times, it even felt like eating in a hipster restaurant with people in the queue staring daggers at you. Which is a pity, because otherwise this would be an amazing place to work, slap bang in the middle of a cultural hub.

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Friends’ House Library, Euston

Website www.quaker.org.uk/library
Nearest tubes Euston; Warren Street; Russell Square.
Opening hours Saturday, Sunday, Monday : Closed.
Tuesday-Friday : 10.00-17.00
Internet access Free WiFi (get code at reception); 2 computers.
Chances of getting a seat Good
Pros Beautiful; quiet; individual sockets per seat.
Cons Locker system; registration required; lies, lies, lies.

Euston is uniquely miserable, and for some reason packed with amazing libraries. Within a five-minute walk you have the British Library and the Wellcome Library – and then this, almost exactly halfway between them. It’s located directly opposite Euston station, so if you get hungry you can pop over the road and fight with desperate commuters for the last dry baguette.

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The building itself is a Quaker Meeting House – there’s a garden outside (currently under refurbishment), a cafe and a restaurant. Everyone here smiles constantly and exudes a mysterious glow. Immediately after I sat down to start work the fire alarm went off, and I found myself standing in the street with fifty unflappable Quakers. While I was worrying about my laptop bag being stolen, they were all chatting away like it was the best thing that had ever happened to them.

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The library is through the corridor to the left of the main reception desk. It’s the only resource in the UK with information on the Quaker faith and its followers – which touches on history, geography, sociology… everything, apparently.

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It’s small, warm, and absolutely lovely – all wooden mezzanine floors and old framed portraits. They still have, and still use, a proper library card catalogue, although the librarian told me they’ve been trying to replace it for the last two years. They have two computers, and about 24 desk spaces – each of which comes with its own socket. Kerching! All that’s required is that you register as a user, which isn’t surprising. You do need a proof of address, which luckily I had anyway. Under “Purpose of Visit”, I decided to say I was a postgraduate and was using the library for a bit of research.

This was a mistake.

“What is it you’re researching?”

Oh god. “Er… London history?”

“What part of London history?”

There followed two minutes of questioning where I proved myself as convincing a historian as I am a mermaid and which was utterly excruciating for everyone involved. Somehow though – and Christ only knows how – I managed to get a library card. It lasts for four years. Apparently from this point on it’s just a case of signing yourself in each time you come in and they leave you to it, but I still felt that distinct taste of shame in my mouth that comes from lying to really nice people and not even doing it very well.

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You have to leave your stuff in lockers in the corridor outside, which is frustrating but understandable. You also have to get the day’s WiFi code from the reception desk, which is probably worth doing on your way in to save some time. Regardless, this is a really lovely place to work – even more surprising that it’s almost empty. Compared to the madness of the British Library, it’s like a small haven – just maybe have a decent cover story before you go in. Or stop lying and go to the British Library, you monster.

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Durning Library, Kennington

Website www.lambeth.gov.uk/places/durning-library
Nearest tubes Kennington; Vauxhall; Elephant & Castle.
Opening hours Monday : 13.00-18.00
Tuesday, Friday : 10.00-18.00
Wednesday : 10.00-20.00
Thursday : Closed.
Saturday : 09.00-17.00
Sunday : Closed.
Internet access Free WiFi (registration required); 7 computers (photo ID).
Chances of getting a seat Only 10 spaces.
Pros Small, pleasant, interesting building.
Cons Weird opening times, registration required, unsafe WiFi.

I’d give you directions to find this library, but you really don’t need them. Clue: it’s the only building in the area that looks like this.

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This weird little library is just off Kennington Lane. I remember noticing it when I went past on a bus a few months ago, and then promptly forgot about it. I figured I’d visit for the blog and see what it was like inside: there are no photos of the interior on the internet, except for some beautiful old archive photos. As it is, the corridor and exterior are still amazing: you even get a sense of the original building inside, which makes it quite a nice place to work.

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The library itself is only one room: there are a few computers and some workspaces, and that’s it. If you want to use the WiFi, you need to register for a Lambeth Library card. This doesn’t take long and you don’t need photo ID – however you DO need photo ID if you want to use the computers, which is a pain. The WiFi itself is slow and unsecure, which is a pity given the rigmarole of getting the card (even if it does come with a fancy keyring).

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You get the impression this library doesn’t get very busy, which is useful as there aren’t many workspaces. It also means it’s quiet, and you’re not fighting with everyone for the same spaces and resources. There’s something quite sweet about everyone working in one big room inside a building that looks like a witch’s house. It almost makes up for the unhelpful opening hours.

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Anthropology Library & Research Centre, British Museum

Website www.britishmuseum.org/about_us/departments/
africa,_oceania,_americas/research_facilities.aspx
Nearest tubes Holborn; Goodge Street; Russell Square.
Opening hours Monday , Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday :  10.00-17.00
Thursday : 12.00-17.00
Saturday, Sunday : Closed.
Internet access  BTOpenzone Wi-Fi; 6 computers.
Chances of getting a seat  Good – avoid study times.
Pros  Location, lovely staff, silence.
Cons  Registry required, almost underground, bad WiFi.

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Walk into the British Museum. You’ll see a massive domed building inside the room ahead of you. This used to be the Reading Room. Do a Google Image Search of “British Museum Reading Room”, and then marvel at how anything so beautiful was ever allowed to be used for people to work for free. It’s been used as an exhibition space since the year 2000, because of ludicrous reasons like “museums need to make money to survive”, and “something this beautiful should be seen by more people”, and “it’s a sensible, understandable decision to capitalise on that sort of space and allow it to thrive rather than give it away for nothing”, and BLAH BLAH BLAH WHATEVER. I mean, just look at it!

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Forget it. You don’t need it. Walk past the Beautiful Dome of Betrayal to the other side of the room, and then straight through the next room as well. You’ll see a big staircase heading down to the level below. Walk down these and you’ll find the Anthropology Library on your left. There’s another entrance here leading out onto Montague Place – it’s much quicker and easier to access the library from here rather than the main Great Russell Street entrance. I only mentioned that so I could rant about the Reading Room. Sorry.

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There are loads of departmental libraries in the British Museum, but this is the only one you can just walk in and use without permission. You do have to register to use it, though, including handing over a photo ID. This is a bit annoying, but you only need to do it once and it takes about two minutes. It helps that the staff are really lovely, and just seem delighted that someone has shown up. You’re not allowed to bring in any bags, so they let you keep your stuff behind the counter – which means you don’t need to use the British Museum cloakroom (£1.50 per item, 50p for umbrellas). Result!

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This isn’t the prettiest library in the world. It’s a proper academic library with a purpose – come here at the end of term-times and it’ll be filled with grateful anthropology students. There are a few computers you can use, and work tables with sockets – maybe twenty spaces in total, placed next to windows that don’t let in much light. It’s also worth mentioning that the library doesn’t have its own WiFi – it uses a BTOpenZone channel, which is slow and which scares the living daylights out of me every time I have to use it. There isn’t much space to work – the majority of the library is taken up with bookshelves, which of course is how it should be.

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What makes this library special is its location. It’s in the British Museum! There’s something really nice about sitting in a silent corner in the basement of one of the most important cultural institutions in the country. Like you’re in a box tucked in the corner of the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Whenever you need a break, the staff will keep your things behind the desk while you wander round the museum and do so top-shelf people watching.

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Ziferblat, Old Street

Website http://london.ziferblat.net/
Nearest tubes  Old Street; Shoreditch High Street; Hoxton.
Opening hours Monday – Friday: 10.00-23.00
Saturday, Sunday : 12.00-23.00
Internet access Free WiFi.
Chances of getting a seat Busy – whole tables often taken by meetings.
Pros Incredible facilities, free food and drinks, lovely atmosphere.
Cons Not free, can be loud, may possibly take over your life.

Find the corner of Old Street and Shoreditch High Street. You’ll know you’re there because it’s a crossroads that somehow combines a church, a kebab shop, a tattoo parlour, a railway arch covered in street art, and a strip club that’s open on Sundays. Tucked away on one side you’ll find the window display for Ziferblat – labelled on Google Maps as a “hip pay-what-you-like cafe and social club”.

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Technically Ziferblat shouldn’t be on this blog, because it isn’t free. To use the facilities you’re charged 5p per minute, which works out at £3 an hour. Once you get up to five hours, the fee caps out for the day at £15. There’s a cheaper price for regulars: spend over 11 hours here in total and you’ll only pay 3p per minute, with a cap of £9. Good value considering a deskspace around here would probably cost you close to £300 a month – but not exactly free.

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But here’s where it gets interesting: the 3p per minute entry free includes everything that Ziferblat has to offer. So, for starters, you get unlimited free tea and coffee. That doesn’t mean an industrial-sized tub of Nescafe with a plastic spoon in it – it’s actual proper coffee, which the people behind the desk will make for you if you’re not sure how to use the machine. Then there’s a kitchen with free snacks laid out on a table. FREE. There were plates of biscuits, fruit and bread when I went in: there’s a fridge with food you can help yourself to, with the exception of the top shelf (I think).

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That’s not all. They have fast WiFi. If you’re running out of battery, they have loads of different spare chargers to lend you. They have a printer you can use for free. FREE. They have shelves of DVDs and books to borrow if you get bored. They have activities and exhibitions listed on a big chalkboard. There are some really, really comfy chairs. It’s like working in someone’s excellent house. The people who work here are also lovely and friendly, and seemed as excited about the free stuff as I was, even though they’ve probably worked here for frigging ages.

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This is the main danger of Ziferblat: if, like me, you’re a greedy miser, then you’ll probably never leave. You’ll just live in the kitchen eating the butter straight out the tub because it’s free. And you won’t be the only one – Ziferblat is clearly popular. As well as those quietly working at tables, there are groups here for business meetings, and a few people just hanging out and talking. It’s not loud, but it is busy – I wouldn’t be surprised if sometimes there was a squash for space. Which is clearly a good thing – this is a great idea, one that London needs more of. Everyone here seems really happy to have found such a nice place. When I visited, they were just about to start extending their opening hours.

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Disclaimer: Ziferblat also describes itself as “a treehouse for adults”. It has a carved doorbell made of wood with a lengthy explanation about how to use it that is almost impossible to understand. When you arrive upstairs, you’re asked to choose an antique clock from a selection (mine was called Edith) that doesn’t seem to serve any purpose whatsoever. They have boxes of Lego lying around. If you love that sort of thing – or if you find it slightly infuriating, but can happily look past it because you get free coffee – then this is probably going to become your new house.