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Many volumes in store rooms were lost due to bombing in World War Two. The library was originally housed in the Old Library at the Guildhall, and moved to modern premises elsewhere in the Guildhall complex in the 1970s.
The library is a public reference library and specialises in subjects relevant to London. The collection has its greatest depth on topics specifically concerned with the City, but also contains a great deal of material on the other parts of metropolitan London. It is divided into three main sections: printed books; manuscripts; and prints, maps and drawings. The material dates from the eleventh century onwards.
William Herbert was elected librarian of the Guildhall Library, which had been recently re-established by the Corporation of London, in 1828. He prepared a second edition of the catalogue in 1840, and retired in 1845.
David Pearson was the Director of Libraries, Archives in the City of London between 2009 and early 2017. His brief also included London Metropolitan Archives, City Business Library and Guildhall Art Gallery.
There are specialist book collections on the following subjects:
- London and its history
- Local history
- Family history
- English law
- Parliamentary material
- Wine and food
- Clocks and clockmakers (incorporating also the libraries of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers and of the Antiquarian Horological Society)
- Business history
- Marine history
- Several smaller collections
The local history collections are not restricted to London but cover the whole of the British Isles. In addition to complete sets of the Victoria County History of England volumes and Nikolaus Pevsner's Buildings of England, the library holds a collection of county, town and village histories, and also holds journals and other publications of many local history and archaeological societies.
- Guildhall Library section of the City of London's site
- Collage database of images from the City of London's collections