I'm off the The Leeds Library today with my mother. We're very lucky in this part of Yorkshire to have a wonderful private library. Alongside the fabulous collections of the public Leeds city library and also the Brotherton library at the university, hidden away right in the middle of the city is this amazing collection of 150,000 or so books, with volumes dating back to the fifteenth century. It is a private library - you have to apply to join - but for the princely sum of £10 a month (last time I checked) you too can frequent the premises the library has occupied since 1808. It is not just for researchers (though it specialises in rare travel books, and has a excellent local history section, as well as a quiet room for working in) as it has the best easy-access collection of twentieth century fiction of any library I visit. It is pretty good on contemporary poetry too, which many public libraries are pretty useless at.
The library has been around since the mid-eighteenth century when it was member-owners only. My mother and I are directly descended from three of the founder members - our little claim to fame! Since 2008 it has been a charity and joining is pretty easy, cheaper than your gym membership, and will probably do you more good. The lovely staff are marvellous, there are no fines, and they let you take so many books out at once that you'll need to take a wheelbarrow with you to get them home.
If you are too far away to visit can you have a sneeky glimpse at some of the main rooms, and hear about some of the arts events that the library holds (open to the public) in the video below, or you for different type of visit you can enjoy Death Of an Avid Reader by Frances Brody, a murder mystery set in The Leeds Library (copies available directly from me with free UK postage!).