Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The mystique of libraries

I'll wager most of us got our book groove on originally in a library. Flavorwire's roundup of some special ones worldwide featured this great shot of London after the blitz.
Civilization lives on, in that inimitable British fashion
Below is one of my favorite ex-libraries. The rotunda, which Thomas Jefferson considered the most important building at his University of Virginia, housed its library for a century in its dome. Today special collections exhibits fill its glass-fronted cases (visible behind the columns at right and left). Once I stumbled on one with hundreds of editions of Jane Eyre, from the first publication to today.


Please share some of your favorite libraries with us, be they awesome and magnificent or ever so humble (mobile library mystery, anyone?) In this article in The Guardian, Germaine Greer brings her usual passion to pleading for the preservation of historic libraries. A very loud "Amen sister!"
There are more comfortable places to read than Duke Humfrey's Library, but none more atmospheric or thrilling. When I give my bag to the concierge and trot up the stone stairs, I get the same feeling as a football fan heading for the turnstiles.
Bodley is very special, but so is any building that was built to store books and manuscripts, whether monastic or princely or academic or corporate. It may be dark and inconvenient, but it is as much a creature of its own historic moment as Venice's Biblioteca Marciana, which was built to a design of Sansovino in the mid-16th century. The Marciana was built to house the precious collection of Cardinal Bessarion; the illuminated manuscripts, the beautifully printed books and the building together make an integrated artefact. To be sure, methods of cataloguing and conservation should be modernised, but to remove its books and its walnut bookcases and gut the building would be as barbaric an act as burning the library of Alexandria.
The Duke Humfrey's Library reading room at the ancient Bodleian Library at Oxford
Hard to believe they left this one out: The New York Public Library Reading Room, on Fifth Avenue. That's a setting to inspire lofty flights of the imagination!

16 comments:

  1. Maryland has a wealth of wonderful libraries. For those who have yet to check out Howard County's Miller Branch location, check this out! Great place...

    http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/howard/bal-ho-new-library-pg,0,2155109.photogallery

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    1. It looks very inviting! I like how all the windows make it seem accessible and open.

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  2. Thank you for this. I would have been there, in the London Library, checking to see if my favorite edition of Petrarca's Canzoniere had survived. One day I shall visit all the libraries on my list. For now I only know the Bobst in NYU--oddly sterile, with a floor that induces vertigo if you lean over the rail on the upper floors. I don't think they let you do that anymore.
    I want to visit the Morgan library but never get the chance. Have you been there? Do they let you handle the books?

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    1. The Morgan is so on my list!! they always have the most wonderful exhibits, which I read about and sigh over. I don't know about touching--unless you can produce some scholarly credentials?

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  3. I don't know if I have any favorite libraries in particular, but I do have excellent memories in my hometown library. I love any library that is inviting, with comfortable and ample seating, and is, of course, filled to the brim with books. It's a magical thing to have free access to knowledge, stories, and other worlds -- something I think we have a tendency to overlook, perhaps because we haven't been without libraries. I hope we never are!

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    1. You are so right -- almost any public library is a municipal treasure, and some of them have the added bonus of being housed in gorgeous, historic buildings.

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  4. 1) A library I fondly remember visiting is the one at the John Adams National Historic Site — although it was built after Adams died, and never used by him.

    2) I probably would rather live in a library than in a house, and I liked discovering the first branch library in Albuquerque, which was the house of famed war correspondent Ernie Pyle.

    3) I knew that Keith Richards once said he wished he was a librarian; his and some other terrific celebrity home libraries are depicted here.

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    1. How cool is that (#2)? and thanks for the link. I always picture having a library like in Downton Abbey--huge, with armchairs and a fireplace and books going up to the ceiling and ladders to get to them.

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    2. Thanks, RPS, for the look at home libraries. It probably should not seem odd that Rod Stewart or Michael Jackson possess large libraries, but when do they get to read the books? I never thought I had anything in common with Nigella Lawson, but the books on her floor (and the occasional avalanche) I know too well.

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  5. The Queens (NY) public library is determinedly digitalized, which means you order books unseen on a computer and pick them up like dry cleaning. Gone is that ambience--the dust motes flying through shafts of sunlight, the smell of old paper, the soft edges of well-worn books--and it is missed. There are hardly any books left on shelves to browse through.

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  6. I've always been a fan of the Enoch Pratt Free Library on Cathedral St in Baltimore. A few years ago when I was super poor and living downtown that place was a placed I could get lost in for hours!!!!

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    1. Yeah, who needs magazine subscriptions when you can catch up there!

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  7. Jay Walker's Library just bowls be over. I wish I could visit it - and spend hours, of course - in person. These pictures are the next best thing.
    http://www.wired.com/techbiz/people/magazine/16-10/ff_walker?currentPage=all

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