Safe 5

(B39 zu M39)

Dear B.

Thank you for your enquiry.  At the time of writing and publication of Ms Byatt’s book “Possession” the London Library had a shelfmark/location called Safe 5, one of several locations where books were kept in secure accommodation and not on the open shelves. Shortly afterwards, the Library acquired a new secure wing, and all books from the Safes were transferred into it.  They were not kept in their previous shelf order.  The book which prompted Ms Byatt’s fictitious invention, R.W. Mackay’s The progress of the intellect … 2 volumes, 1850, is now shelved in a different area, and the volumes on either side of it are not the same.  At the time the Library did not have a shelfmark listing, and it would be difficult to recreate the order of the books as they were pre-1991.

There is a shelfmark browse function in our online catalogue, but Safe 5 is no longer a shelfmark.  Some but not all books with that shelfmark now have the shelfmark Mod or Mod, 4to.

I hope this answers your query.

A. S.

Deputy Librarian

The London Library

14 St James’s Square



Tel: 020-XXX-XXXX

Dear B.,

Thank you for your email.  I have passed your query onto the Deputy Librarian who will get back to you with a response.  The shelfmark you are enquiring about is an old shelfmark of ours which used to be called “Safe 5”.

Kind regards,

T. A.

Issue Desk

The London Library

—–Original Message—–

From: “B.”

Sent 12/12/2007 9:22:39 AM

To: enquiries @

Subject: Shelf Number 5

Dear Sir or Madam,

for a novel I am doing some research, which all in a sudden leads me to the London Library. In Antonia S. Byatt’s novel “Possession”, there’s a passage (I only have the German translation, there: Page 9) in which a Librarian of the London Library hands out a Book to Roland Mitchell. The book used to be in the prohibited Shelf (or Box?) Number 5 („Sperrfach Nr.5″), between the titles “De priapo” and “Die griechische Knabenliebe”. I wanted to ask you if there’s an option in your Online-Catalogue to retrieval the whole content of this Shelf Number 5. Or if you have a list of titles, which are still standing in this shelf. But maybe the whole setting is completely fictitious?

Thank you very much for your answer.

Yours sincerly


Bern, Switzerland