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The library, on the 5th floor of the Royal Festival Hall, reopened in July 2007, after refurbishment. 

There is now more space and more daylight and, as the whole of The Festival Hall has been revamped, the surroundings are fresh and welcoming.  

The Library

This pleasant specialist library has unusually long opening hours and is both a lending and reference library, “free and open to all”.   Poetry in some 80,000 books, pamphlets, and electronic media is on open shelves in bright, modern, surroundings.   Although it’s in the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank you are unlikely to come across it accidentally because it is tucked away from the concert crowds up on level 5.

The library specialises in poetry in English published in the 20th and 21st centuries, and aims to hold all poetry published in the UK as well as a selection of international work in English.   The stock includes English translations of foreign language poetry.

Earlier poems appear in some of the anthologies but you will not find volumes of Wordsworth, Milton or Blake.   However, if you want to look at older poems, you can search databases for poetry back to 600 AD using the library’s computer terminals.   Staff will advise you about the best way to find what you want.

Children are welcome and there is a large collection of poetry for them and an area to sprawl in.   Seats around casual tables and at private desks give older readers places to browse or study and the desks have power points for laptop users.

There is a bank of video and CD players for the large audio-visual collection so you can hear poets reading their own work.   The impressive array of periodicals includes major national and international journals and home-duplicated magazines.   Dipping into the “Betjemen Society Newsletter”, the “Keats-Shelley Memorial Association Newsletter”, and others with imaginative titles such as the “Dandelion Arts Magazine”, the “Global Tapestry Journal”, and the “Journal of the Friends of Poetry-by-the-Sea”, alone would have made our visit worthwhile.

The atmosphere is quiet and peaceful and the staff friendly.   Whether your taste runs to Charles Sisson or Spike Milligan this is a delightful place to spend an afternoon with your favourite poets and discovering new ones.

Visiting the library

The library is on Level 5 of the Royal Festival Hall.   You can use the reference facilities without registering but to borrow books, CDs and videos you will need to be member.   There is no charge for joining but you will have to complete the usual form and produce some proof of identity and address.

The Royal Festival Hall is due to close in 2005 for refurbishment  which will take about two years.   There has been no announcement yet (February 2004) about what will happen to the library during this period - ask nearer to the time.

Disabled access is complicated.   Within the building there is a lift taking you to the library, but finding the best way into the building, especially if you arrive by public transport, and finding the right lift when you are there, can be confusing.   We tried to get instructions from the Royal Festival Hall information desk, but could not find that, or anyone who could direct us to it. For more information please ask the Royal Festival Hall’s Access Line, Tel: 020 7921 0926

Finding what you want

The library has (February 2004) no public catalogue.   Instead its books are on open shelves, arranged by author (subject to the tendency of users to put them back in the wrong place).   Some archive material; manuscripts, posters and so on is held separately, and is supplied on request.

The library is staffed with very helpful people skilled in tracking down poems in their own stock and in searching databases and catalogues covering other libraries.   They also provide expert help when you want to find the source of those half remembered lines, poetry on particular subjects, poems for special occasions, or anything else to do with poetry.

The library is developing an on-line catalogue which will eventually be available through their website.


The Royal Festival Hall has a plethora of cafes, restaurants and bars.   We hope you find one that suits you!


The library has two websites.   Its “Poetry Library” site is refreshingly clear about what the library does, and does not, provide.   The library also offers an archive of material from 20th and 21st century poetry magazines on its Poetry Magazines Archive site, funded by the Arts Council of England.   The addresses of these sites are below.

Open: 11.00 am to 8 pm, Tuesday to Sunday
Telephone: 020 7921 0943/0664
Address: The Poetry Library, Level 5, Royal Festival Hall, London SE1 8XX
Websites: Poetry Library site
Rail: Waterloo, Waterloo East, and Charing Cross
Bus: Any bus to Waterloo bridge or station.
Underground: Waterloo, Westminster, Embankment

Anne Bennet     Alan Dove