The Leeds Library

The Leeds Library

At a glance


  • Arts
  • Museums / heritage

Other details

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Founded in 1768, The Leeds Library is the oldest surviving membership subscription library of its kind in the British Isles, and the oldest cultural institution in Leeds. Situated on Commercial Street, in the heart of Leeds City Centre, the Library has been based in its current premises since 1808. Our Grade II* listed building is a rare surviving example of a Georgian public library.

For much of our history, membership to the Library was only possible through the purchase of a library subscription. In 2008 the Trustees of the Library successfully gained the support of the members to become a registered charity, a development that has seen the Library increase its membership and develop its outreach and engagement programme so that far more people can visit the Library and engage with our collections and heritage story. The Library currently has over 1,200 members. The largest number in our history.

The charitable aims of The Leeds Library as detailed in our governance document are as follows:-

• the advancement of education, the diffusion of knowledge and the provision of suitable literature for persons particularly but not exclusively within the city of Leeds and the surrounding area by establishing and maintaining a library to promote the study and knowledge of literature and all artistic and scientific subjects and by providing library facilities and research facilities

• to preserve for the benefit of the public the listed building known as Nos 16 to 20 Commercial Street, Leeds LS1 6AL being a place of historical and architectural interest, value and beauty;

• To advance the education of the general public in all aspects of arts, culture and/or heritage.


To achieve these charitable aims, we undertakes the following work and activities:-

• We open the Library to members and visitors, 6 days a week for Library members and visitors to browse our collections. We have over 130,000 items in our collections and archives. We are particularly rich in books focused on travel, topography, biography, history, and literature, and amongst our gems are first editions of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and Charles Darwin’s on the Origin of Species. As well as books, we have comprehensive collections of printed materials relating to periodicals, Civil War pamphlets, historic newspapers, and Reformation Tracts. The specialness of the collections and archives of the Library are that they chart the unique development of The Leeds Library as an institution and the interests of readers across 254 years in one city. With the majority of books recommended for members, by members the books are a social history of reading interest over many generations unmatched by any other Library in the UK.

Our opening hours are as follows

• Monday to Wednesdays 10am to 6pm

• Thursdays 10am to 7pm

• Fridays 10am to 5pm

• Saturdays 10am to 4pm

• Sundays Closed

The Library has 1,200 members, who visit the Library on a regular basis. In total the Library has over 25,000 visitors a year during opening hours, of which over 10,000 are non-members who are visiting the Library for the first time.

Members and visitors to the Library are not just from Leeds but from across the Yorkshire region.

• We look after our current Grade II* listed home through an ongoing programme of pre-planned building maintenance and repair work, overseen by the Buildings Committee of the Library.

• We curate and host over 100 events a year for the general public to raise awareness of our collections and champion all forms of creative writing. This programme includes author talks, creative workshops, performance, poetry, spoken word, film screenings and the ongoing participation in a number of city-wide festivals, including Leeds Light Night. The Library has over 6,000 visitors a year to our programme of events and activities

• We run weekly free tours of the Library for visitors, so as to introduce them to our collections and heritage story. Approximately 1000 people a year attend a tour each year

• We actively work with a number of heritage organisations in the city including the Thoresby Society, the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, the West Yorkshire Society of Architects and the West Yorkshire Victorian Society, all of whom deliver a number of activities from the Library with support from our team. We increasingly work in partnership with other arts and cultural organisations in the city, an example being the award-winning Leeds Lit Fest, where we work with nine other organisations to deliver events in community settings across the city, which are mostly free for people to attend.

• We directly engage local schools and learning organisations in structured engagement sessions in the Library focused around our collections, creative work and heritage. Currently the Library welcomes around 30 creative learning groups a year to the Library. This is an area of work that we are looking to significantly expand.

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