British Library of Political and Economic Science

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British Library of Political and Economic Science
LSE large.jpg
The roof of the British Library of Political and Economic Science
Country United Kingdom
Type Academic library
Established 1896
Location Portugal Street, London WC2
Coordinates 51°30′52.5″N 0°06′56″W / 51.514583°N 0.11556°W / 51.514583; -0.11556Coordinates: 51°30′52.5″N 0°06′56″W / 51.514583°N 0.11556°W / 51.514583; -0.11556
Branches None[volume & issue needed]
Items collected books, journals, newspapers, maps, official publications, pamphlets, microforms
Size 4M books, 33,600 journal titles[1]
Legal deposit No
Access and use
Circulation 2.7M[1]
Members 41,205[1]
Other information
Budget £7.1M[1]
Director Elizabeth Chapman
Staff 96.6 FTE[1]

The British Library of Political and Economic Science is the main library of the London School of Economics and Political Science, England, and the world's largest library specialising in social and political science.[citation needed]


The library is located on Portugal Street, just north of the main buildings of the school. The current building is the former headquarters and warehouse facilities of WH Smith, opened in 1916 and taken over by LSE in 1976, to be reopened as a library in 1978.

Since its foundation in 1896, it has been the national social sciences library of the United Kingdom and its collections have been recognised for their outstanding national and international importance and awarded 'Designation' status by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA). The Library responds to around 6,500 visits from students and staff each day. In addition, it provides a specialist international research collection, serving over 12,000 registered external users each year.

The Library collects material on a worldwide basis, in all major European languages. The extensive collections range from a European Documentation Centre to 90,000 historical pamphlets, with over 95% of Library stock available on open access. Over 50 km of shelving, enough to stretch the length of the Channel Tunnel, houses over four and a half million items including 31,000 past and present journal titles. The Library subscribes to approximately 15,000 e-journals as part of its electronic information provision.

All materials are housed in a single site, the Lionel Robbins Building, named after the economist who studied, taught and later served as Chairman of the Court of Governors of LSE.

Formal opening of the new library in the Lionel Robbins Building, 1979

The library underwent a £35 million building redevelopment in 2000, overseen by Foster and Partners. The building was officially reopened on 27 November 2001 by HRH The Princess Royal and was commended in the 2002 Civic Trust Awards - given to outstanding examples of architecture and environmental design in major city areas of the UK, taking into account the benefit each project brings to its local area as well as the quality of its design. A further redevelopment in summer 2007, saw the expansion of the Course Collection by 60%, a new help desk, more study spaces and an increase in self-service facilities.

The Lionel Robbins Building covers 20,000 square metres, and offers 1,700 study places, including 450 networked PCs and 226 laptop drop-in points. A light-filled atrium, named after Michael Peacock and spiral stepped ramp culminate at the top in a partially glazed dome which has been precisely angled to maximise daylight with minimal solar glare. A reflecting panel on the roof also helps to direct sunlight to the floors below. The dome and other windows respond automatically according to the temperature in the building; ventilating it naturally. The fourth and fifth floors are home to the LSE Research Lab, an internationally funded resource, bringing together scientists from across the world with the School’s research centres.

The Library is also home to a number of national and regional initiatives. Since 1946 the Library has been a United Nations depository library, providing a comprehensive collection of UN publications and documents. Many other organisations are also significantly represented, including OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), ILO (International Labour Organization), OAS (Organization of American States) and GATT/WTO (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade / World Trade Organization). As a European Documentation Centre, the Library has received publications from the European Community since 1964.

In autumn 2009 a new social space for students, named Escape, was opened in the Library entrance area. The facility was an attempt at mimicking the social learning spaces that have become prevalent in other higher education libraries over the past decade, as well as resolving some the issues of noise and cold air from the front entrance permeating throughout the building.

In October 2009 the School unveiled Bluerain, an artwork on the exterior of the Lionel Robbins Building. Designed by San Francisco artist Michael Brown, it is a thirty-foot structure containing 23,520 blue LEDs, which scrolls text relating to recent catalogue searches, new additions to the collection, and the titles of books being checked in and out of the library.[2]

In January 2012 the LSE Digital Library was launched and acclaimed as a significant development for the School and for the future preservation and exposure of digital collections.[3] The first major collection available on the platform are the diaries of Beatrice Webb, whose digitization was paid for by the Webb Memorial Trust. Future collections to be made accessible are stated as the Charles Booth archive, the George Bernard Shaw photographic collection and the Fabian Society online archive.

It has faced criticism from users over its poor acoustics and uncomfortable staircase.[4]


  1. ^ a b c d e British Library of Political and Economic Science (2010). Annual report 2009-10. 
  2. ^ Bluerain
  3. ^ The LSE launch information page for the Digital Library
  4. ^ Dorrell, Ed. "Students 'inundate' LSE with complaints over Foster library". Architects Journal. Retrieved 2009-03-14. 

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