A picture of the corner of LSE Library (The British Library of Political and Economic Science) in the 1970s.

History of LSE Library

Origins of the Library

The British Library of Political and Economic Science was founded in 1896, a year after the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Arriving at a time when the social, legal and economic environment was becoming increasingly significant; providing materials from all over the world; the Library would enable such research and the 'laboratory' of the social sciences was born.

Sidney and Beatrice Webb led early fundraising efforts, capitalising on their links to the Fabian Society and the London County Council. They were also motivated by the difficulties they had experienced during their own Academic research. The Library was initially housed in Adelphi Terrace, with the support of Miss Payne -Townsend, member of the Fabian Society and future wife of George Bernard Shaw, who sub-let the upper two floors of the building. The availability of larger accommodation in Clare Market led to further fundraising, culminating in the 1902 formal opening as Passmore Edwards Hall, named after one of the Library's philanthropist supporters.

In 1910 the first full-time Librarian took over from Sidney Webb. As the School itself grew the Library’s acquisitions expanded; reinforced by major deposited collections, work began on a subject catalogue.

The onset of World War II temporarily halted Library developments, with the collections moving to storage outside of London to avoid bomb damage. In 1945 the Library returned to activity, with many significant private collections and papers donated in the subsequent decades, and collections built to support LSE research and teaching.

The Lionel Robbins Building

Despite continuing extensions to the Library's accommodation, growth in the post-war years meant that the collections were increasingly housed offsite. Strand House was identified as the solution- a site that had successively housed a workhouse, a burial ground, a hospital and the warehouse of WH Smith.

Negotiations to acquire the building began in 1963 and the remodelling of the new building was completed in 1978. The Library's new home was renamed the Lionel Robbins Building, to honour the economists fundraising efforts throughout the project.

The redevelopment of the Library into its current guise began in the autumn of 1999 with a Foster and Partners redesign, and the building was officially reopened in November 2001.

The version featured the main atrium being driven through to the basement, housing a helical ramp and a pair of glass lifts. A dome caps the atrium, cut at an angle to admit northern light, allowing maximum daylight penetration without problems of glare and solar gain.

Read the LSE History blog to learn more about LSE Library history.

Read LSE Library: a history of the collections written by Graham Camfield.