A short history from 1896 to present staircase Over the years the Library has evolved and grown alongside the School, reflecting both the development of its parent body, and wider changes in society such as the expansion of higher education and the emergence of new technology. This launch exhibition for the new Digital Library showcases some landmark moments from our history, using documents and images from our diverse collections to celebrate the people, places and events that have made the Library what it is today.
Foundation and early days staircase 'Proposal for the Establishment of a Library of Political Science', April 1896. The Library was initially founded to acquire material relating to political science, and although it soon broadened out its collection policy to include the whole of the social sciences, it has always remained committed to the idea of collecting its subjects in as much depth as possible. The proposal goes on to outline the dual role of the Library, as both the working library of LSE and a national research collection. A full copy of the proposal is available in the Related Material section below. (Archives/LSE/Unregistered/21/14b)
Foundation and early days John McKillop John McKillop, Librarian 1897-1909. After the excitement of fundraising and the initial launch, School Secretary John McKillop was appointed as LSE's first (part-time) Librarian, responsible for managing the day-to-day running of Library operations. One of his first actions in his new role was to organise the purchase of a typewriter and the recruitment of a 'young lady' to start work on the catalogue. (Archives/Imagelibrary/72)
Foundation and early days Passmore Edwards Hall Passmore Edwards Hall, 1902. The Library moved with the School to larger premises in Clare Market, near Lincoln's Inn Fields, in 1902. Passmore Edwards Hall was LSE's first purpose-built premises, named after a wealthy benefactor and designed by the architect Maurice Adams. Growing numbers of users and rapidly expanding collections meant that space was limited, and most stock had to be kept in the basement and fetched for users, rather than being accessible on the open shelves. (Archives/Imagelibrary/1344)
1920s  First edition of the London Bibliography of the Social Sciences London Bibliography of the Social Sciences, 1931. The Library's first catalogue listed collections by author and title only, and to overcome its obvious limitations work began in 1922 on the provision of a subject catalogue. The scope of the project gradually expanded to take in other important social science collections in London, making it an indispensible resource for students in that field. The LBSS was finally superseded by the Library's new electronic catalogue in 1989. (Library Reference Collection, Z921 B86)
1920s Library annual reports, 1925 Library Bulletins, 1925. Spot the difference... In 1925, the School's director, William Beveridge, suggested a change to the Library's name, arguing that ''Political Science' gives a very inadequate description of the contents.' He suggested as an alternative ('if it did not seem too ambitious') the name British Library of Economics, Politics and Law. In the end the Trustees opted for the British Library of Political and Economic Science. (Archives/LSE/Unregistered/28/2/1)
Wartime William C. Dickinson, librarian, 1934–44 William C. Dickinson, Librarian 1933-1944. Dickinson successfully led the Library through both the most difficult years of the war, realising that it would be a more crucial resource than ever in the post-war world. 'The "planners" and the "new dealers" for this country will find no parallel collection anywhere', he wrote to Sidney Webb in July 1943. Originally a historian by profession, Dickinson resigned from the Library in 1944 to take up the Fraser Chair of Scottish History at Edinburgh University. (Archives/Imagelibrary/1071)
Wartime Letter from the School Librarian William C. Dickinson to Sidney Webb, 6 October 1939 Letter from Librarian William C. Dickinson to Sidney Webb, 6 October 1939. The Library continued to run a service throughout the war. The lending library was relocated to Cambridge with the rest of the School, while more valuable books and manuscripts were sent to libraries and warehouses throughout the country. The remainder of the stock stayed at Houghton Street, sharing the site with, first, the Ministry of Economic Warfare and then the Air Ministry. (Archives/LSE Small Deposits/105/4)
Wartime shrapnelled sign Shrapnel damage to the Lionel Robbins Building. During the war the Library was still located in LSE's Old Building, while the Lionel Robbins Building (then known as Strand House) housed the London headquarters of W.H. Smith and Sons Ltd. The damage to this sign shows just how real the wartime threat was to the Library and its collections. Walk along Portugal Street and you can still see this damaged sign on the side of the building.
1970s Plebs - the staff magazine PLEBS cover, Spring 1981. The Library's staff magazine PLEBS ran for ten years from Winter 1971 to Summer 1981. Written by Library staff for Library staff, it mixed workplace news with film reviews, articles, poems and jokes . You can read the opening page of the first edition, a letter from Librarian Derek Clarke about planning and fundraising for a new library, in the Related Material section below. (Archives/LSE/Unregistered/28/2/3)
1970s new library brouchure LSE: The New Library, 1978. A special publication to mark the opening of the Lionel Robbins Building, the Library's new home, this brochure features cover illustrations by the artist David Gentleman, and messages of support from HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, then Chancellor of the University of London, and from Nobel Prize winners Professor James Meade, Sir John Hicks and Professor F.A. von Hayek. (Archives/LSE Unregistered/28/2/2)
1970s naming of Lionel Robbins building Naming of the Lionel Robbins Building, 27th July 1978. The new library building was named after the economist Lionel Robbins in recognition of his support for the redevelopment and his 'devoted, brilliant and effective work' as chairman of the Library Appeal. This photo shows Lord and Lady Robbins with Sir Huw Wheldon, Chairman of LSE's Court of Governors, and Professor Ralf Dahrendorf, LSE Director. (Archives/Imagelibrary/376)
1990s library update Library Update, 1995. Library Update was published termly for LSE staff and students. This edition announces that the Library was now signed up to the World Wide Web. Readers were promised they could access information on computers from all over the world, rather than having to come into the Library. The article also announces the launch of the Library's own homepage, featuring opening hours, user guides and other local information. (Library Main Collection Periodicals, Z792.B)
1990s centenary cover Laboratory of the Social Sciences, 1996. Published to commemorate the centenary of the Library, a year after the centenary of LSE, this brochure contains chapters written by Library and academic staff on the vision of the Library's founders - Beatrice and Sidney Webb - and the collection development policy over the years. Perhaps the most fascinating sections in the book are those that contemplate the electronic future of the Library. (Library Main Collection, Z792.B B86)
2001 2001 Launch booklet New Library Launch Brochure, 2001. This booklet was published to celebrate the opening of the Library in the redeveloped Lionel Robbins Building after two years of work. It is a detailed prospectus of the refurbishments and new facilities and includes a logistical account of the move and its complexities. It closes with a special poem written by Jacob Sam-La Rose for the Library called 'An Essay on the Nature of the Building'. You can read the complete brochure in the Related Material section below.
2001 Official opening party - LSE’s redeveloped Library, 27 November 2001 Official opening of the redeveloped Lionel Robbins Building, 27 November 2001. HRH The Princess Royal, the Chancellor of the University of London, officially opened the building on 27 November 2001. The opening reception took place on the lower ground floor of the Library and was attended by staff from throughout the school. (Archives/Imagelibrary/851)
Present everyone loves to floorwalk, really! Library Floorwalkers. Floorwalkers offer a roving service to our users in different parts of the library. Equipped with i-pads they offer help and advice wherever they are needed and are the first port of call if help is needed away from the service points. Other recent service developments include the implementation of zoning in the library, library beanbags, laptops that can be borrowed and an instant chat service for the Inter Library Loans team
Present bluerain Bluerain On October 6th 2009 Bluerain, an installation by American sculptor Michael Brown was formally unveiled on the southwest-facing wall of the Lionel Robbins building. Made up of 23,520 blue light emitting diodes, it reflects the searches being carried out in the Library. Brown states that "[when] observed from a distance the artwork looks like shimmering cascades of light, or blue rain, but on closer inspection it becomes clear that the blue rain is made up of words". The artwork was made possible as a result of a gift from Peter Boesch and Darril Hudson, an LSE alumnus.

A Landmark Library

LSE Library has moved and grown with the School, proving itself to be a crucial ongoing service supporting research and teaching. The launch of our Digital Library is part of our vision for a library that remains true to its traditions while confidently moving on and providing new services beyond its walls.

- Liz Chapman, Director of Library Services

Beatrice Webb records in her diary for 26th March 1896 the moment her husband thought of establishing a library to complement the work of the London School of Economics and Political Science, and the efforts they went to in order to secure funding for its establishment

... A brilliant idea flashed across Sidney's mind. We needed, for the use of the students, books and reports - why not appeal to the Public to subscribe to a Library of Political Science? At first we thought we could get a millionaire to subscribe the whole amount on condition that he called it by his own name. In vain I flattered Passmore Edwards - in vain Sidney pressed poor Sir Hickman Bacon - in vain we wrote 'on spec' to various magnates. The idea did not impress them. So we decided to scrape money together by small subscriptions. Sidney drafted a circular; Hewins secured the adhesion of the Economists and then began a long process of begging letter writing. Sidney wrote to all the politicians, I raked up all my old ball partners and between us we have gathered together a most respectable set of contributors - a list which is eloquent testimony to our respectability!..

- Read Beatrice's original diary entry in the Related Material section opposite.

The Library has come a long way since then, and the launch of our Digital Library - through which we will collect, manage, preserve and provide access to our digital collections - is the latest milestone in our 115 year history. This first exhibition celebrates some of the other landmark moments from our unique and prestigious past, using documents and images from our rich collections to chart the Library's growth and development from 1896 to the present day.

Further Reading

Many of the items referenced on this page can be found in the library. If you are interested in finding out more, the links below will take you to the Library catalogue.

Previous exhibitions

Current exhibition

  • World War One @ LSE

    WW1 @ LSE: a common cause

    WW1 @ LSE: a common cause draws on the Library's collections to feature a selection of digital images related to the First World War.