I need to find a quiet space to write in downtown London
July 8, 2008 9:44 AM   Subscribe

I need a quiet place to write in London. A library would be great, but...

...but I'm not attached to a British school. I thought the British Library would be my ticket, but they require a reader card too, and I don't live here permanently, so I don't have the "proof of address" they require.

My criteria:

- Quiet*
- Outlets to plug in a laptop
- Free wifi
- In or near Camden

*By "quiet," I don't mean totally silent, just no Muzak and nobody at the next table carrying on a conversation.
posted by electric_counterpoint to Travel & Transportation around London, England (13 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
The British Library is kind of special - have you tried the regular libraries nearby?

Personally I'd head up to Hampstead and find a nice pub or cafe that's quiet during the day.
posted by Artw at 9:53 AM on July 8, 2008

Public Libraries in the borough of Camden. I haven't been to Camden Town Library in a while and it's possible that rather than WiFi they have some (probably fairly crummy) PCs with public Internet access.
posted by Dan Brilliant at 9:55 AM on July 8, 2008

The public areas of the Barbican have free wifi and outlets. The place is also very quiet on weekdays.
posted by vacapinta at 9:57 AM on July 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Hampstead is delightful but I doubt that any of its otherwise splendid cafes and watering holes will meet your need for both conversation-free hush and WiFi.
posted by Dan Brilliant at 10:01 AM on July 8, 2008

Seconding the Barbican. There are many nooks and crannies, I've done afternoons there reading.
posted by rokusan at 10:05 AM on July 8, 2008

The National Art Library in the V&A Museum. You only need to sign your name when you go in and it's very quiet, airy and beautiful with huge windows overlooking the garden. Or the cafe anytime after lunch.

Not very near Camden but you can get the piccadilly line straight there from King's Cross...
posted by freya_lamb at 10:26 AM on July 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

When I had a British Library pass 4 years ago, they did not require you to live locally, and I don't see that requirement on the website now. They just need a proof of address, wherever that is. You will, however, have to describe why you need access to the Library's collection. If your only requirement is a quiet place to work, I expect they will not give you a pass.
posted by lockedroomguy at 10:51 AM on July 8, 2008

Are you affiliated with a university (US or other) that participates in the OCLC SHARES program? These universities have reciprocal treatment of students and faculty. You can download a pdf of the list here. King's College is on it. More info on specific benefits here (scroll down to "On-site access").
posted by unknowncommand at 1:19 PM on July 8, 2008

Sorry, I missed your comment that Camden is a requirement. Nevermind!
posted by unknowncommand at 1:21 PM on July 8, 2008

If your worries about acquiring a reader pass are your only concerns about the British Library, I'd second lockedroomguy: I had no difficulty getting a British Library pass last year while I was studying abroad in London, and I was only there for a three month period (and, like you, was unattached to a British institution). If I recall correctly, I used my US Passport and a bank card for the two forms of identification, and experienced no problems. You can email them at reader-registration@bl.uk to ask what'll fly as far as ID goes.

There's also the reading room at the British Museum, though it sometimes houses exhibits.
posted by sciapod at 1:23 PM on July 8, 2008

The reading room at the British Museum will be occupied by the exhibit on Emperor Hadrian until the end of October unfortunately (the exhibit looks good though!).

As for the British Library, while you do need to describe why you need access to the Library's collection as lockedroomguy said, it doesn't need to be an incredibly sophisticated scholarly reason. They're quite free with access to the general publc and you can just give any random reason why you might need to look at some books, like that you're working on some short stories about life in the 19th century British navy, and they'd let you in.
posted by Kirjava at 2:34 PM on July 8, 2008

A couple comments on the above posts:

1. The reading room at the British museum is currently unavailable. I've tried to get in. They're preparing it for the Hadrian Exhibition.

2. The British museum doesn't have any wifi.

3. The British Library does have wifi but you have to pay for it (although it will start being free later this year). You do not need any kind of reader pass for the public areas of the British Library. This includes work desks up on the second floor and tables near the cafe which are all outfitted with outlets. The atmosphere, full of tourists and whatnot, is not at all "quiet" though.
posted by vacapinta at 2:36 PM on July 8, 2008

There has recently been a bit of a fuss about the British Library packing 'em in too tight, so it may not be that good a haven (or maybe they have since tightened up enough to keep others out as well as you).

University libraries seem a good bet -- they may give you a temporary reader's card. It is not unreasonable that they may worry about you not having local proof of address, but they might accept evidence of a permanent address elsewhere. The two closest that I can think of, London Met and UCL, come from quite different traditions and may have quite different policies.

Or try the public libraries -- ask them about a quiet spot -- the largest library in an area may well have a separate quiet reference section.
posted by Idcoytco at 3:03 PM on July 8, 2008

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