I’m a Celebrity- Check Me Out of Here!

James Heywood, Founder of the First Free Library in Kensington
James Heywood, Founder of the First Free Library in Kensington

The Biography Collection at Kensington Central Library

Kensington Central Library is home to the biography collection, which contains an estimated total of 80,000 books. It began as part of the Metropolitan Special Collection which was set up among the London boroughs in the 1950s. It’s a very well-used resource and every title in the collection is available to view and borrow.

The classification of biography includes memoirs, letters, diaries and speeches. The works of renowned public speakers like Winston Churchill and prolific letter writers such as Queen Victoria can be found here. We also stock  collected biographies (about more than one person). Many of our holdings are out of print (the earliest we have date back to the early 1700s) and difficult to find elsewhere. Over the years we’ve amassed books from other public libraries, academic institutions as well as donations from members of the public. This makes our collection as unique as it is expansive.

A Selection of Books in the Biography Collection
A Selection of Books in the Biography Collection

What’s fascinating about the biography collection is the range of interests it caters to. Many of our titles cross into other subjects with artists, scientists, world leaders and historical figures. Saints and sinners, emperors and slaves – you’ll find them all here. From works of academic research to light-hearted showbiz stories, there’s something in the collection for everyone.

Books on Mozart
Books on Mozart

As the biography collection is inaccessible to the public, we select materials for display in the library.  These are often tied to events, festivals and library promotions. Here are a few we have exhibited this year…

  • Dickens Bicentenary: How the life of Charles Dickens inspired him to write his memorable stories and characters. With over one hundred holdings on the life of the novelist, we had plenty to choose from!
  • The Queen’s Jubilee: To celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II we gathered together some books on her early life as well as the sixty years of her reign.
  • London 2012 Olympics: Our “Sporting Heroes” display documented the trials, tribulations and victories of some of the world’s most famous athletes.

All of the titles can be found on the library catalogue and are available on request. They can be issued to anyone with a valid library card.

Take a peek at the biography collection we have a video on our website. Want to see more? We will be holding tours of the collection in January 2013, keep an eye on our What’s On page for further details!

Lindsay Robertson
Lindsay Robertson

Lindsay Robertson, Senior Customers Services Assistant

Kensington Central Library

Words in the Reference Store

The Reference Library store at Kensington Central Library is full of treasures kept for students, researchers, and anyone interested in history. But you don’t have to be interested in old battles to dig this history. What about words?

Dictionary of the English Language - 1788
Dictionary of the English Language – 1788

There are shelves of books about the history of language. From 1788 we have A Dictionary of the English Language to which are added An Alphabetical Account of the Heathen Deities; and a list of the Cities, Towns, Boroughs, and remarkable Villages, in England and Wales. All this in one tiny volume that would fit in your jacket pocket, published in 1788 for W. Peacock on “Fleet-Street.”

Samuel Johnson's dictionary
Samuel Johnson’s dictionary

For the purists we have a copy of Samuel Johnson’s dictionary, one of the most famous dictionaries ever published.  It took eight years and six helpers to compile and was hoped to stabilise the rules of the English language.  Ours is from 1814 so it isn’t a first edition but it still contains all the words he allegedly made up, and other words he says are “low” such as gambler and traipse.

Dictionary of Derivations - 1872
Dictionary of Derivations – 1872

In A Dictionary of the Derivations of the English Language in which each word is traced to its primary root forming a Text Book Of Etymology with definitions and the pronunciation of each word, we learn that the word browse used to refer to the act of nibbling on the twigs of shrubs.  What we’d really like to know is when titles stopped being an entire page long. This book was published in 1872.

In a Word - Cheater
In a Word – Cheater

There’s a 1939 copy of In A Word by Margaret S. Ernst and illustrated by celebrated New Yorker cartoonist James Thurber. This one seems to argue that a picture—or at least a drawing—really is worth 1000 words.

In a Word - Pardon
In a Word – Pardon
In a Word - Gospel
In a Word – Gospel

To keep them in usable condition for a long as possible these and many more books are only available on request and we’re thrilled when they’re requested. Search the Kensington and Chelsea library catalogue for what interests you and come in to visit some of our treasures.

Jennifer Brubacher, Senior Customer Services Assistant

Kensington Central Reference Library