A Safari among Subscription Libraries

Sigfrid Lundberg's Stuff 2010-04-06

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The London Library is an independent subscription library. In the UK there are quite a few libraries of this kind left, in spite of the fact that it is more or less an anachronism. There are enough of them to organize themselves in an Association of Independent Libraries. The London Library is the largest member of the organization, and it is also the one with the highest membership fee.

O'Reilly, the book publishling company, has an online subscription library (It had when I wrote this. It is closed now.), perhaps mainly aimed at technical people like myself. I've had a personal subscription for quite some time, and I recently I upgraded the subscription such that I have unlimited access to the entire stock. The fee is $53.74 (including VAT 25%). That's $656.88 per annum which is £398.60. This is an interesting figure, since the annual membership fee for The London Library is £395.00.

I let Safari describe itself in a quotation from its top page:

Online access to books, videos, and tutorials from Peachpit, New Riders, Adobe Press, O'Reilly, and others.1

The London Library takes a more intellectual stance on its home page:

The London Library has long played a central role in the intellectual life of the nation, serving generations of readers and writers throughout the country - and beyond - by lending material from its remarkable collections, and by providing a rare literary refuge in the heart of the capital. Membership is open to all.2

Is a comparison relevant?

The London Library has a very differen subject range [which] is mainly within the humanities, and the collection is particularly strong in history, literature (including fiction), biography, art, philosophy, religion and related fields3. The library aquires both books and periodicals, and has similar services as a university library when it comes to electronic journals and access to databases.

The Safari Subscription Library is aiming at another audience, but appart from that the two has basically the same business model. They gather media and provide access to paying customers. Safari does not help you if you're about to write your thesis in computer science, whereas The London Library would do that for a serious student of history.

The obvious difference between the two on the one hand and the public library system on the other is the funding. The London Library is a charity, but otherwise it is as dependent on its customers as is Safari. Besides, both offers subscription schemes for public libraries and other businesses. Last but not least, both of them supply quality.

So, yes, the comparison is meaningful. In particular, it is interesting to see how a surviving speciemen of the precursors of the modern library is so very much like what could possibly be what may come after.


  1. The London Library,
  2. Safari Books Online,'Reilly_Online_Learning_(formerly_Safari_Books_Online)
  3. Frequently asked questions,


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My name is Sigfrid Lundberg. The stuff I publish here may, or may not, be of interest for anyone else.

On this site there is material on photography, music, literature and other stuff I enjoy in life. However, most of it is related to my profession as an Internet programmer and software developer within the area of digital libraries. I have been that at the Royal Danish Library, Copenhagen (Denmark) and, before that, Lund university library (Sweden).

The content here does not reflect the views of my employers. They are now all past employers, since I retired 1 May 2023.

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