A Little Saturday Cheer

British library london.jpg
British library london” by Jack1956Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
We may be reading less and less but it seems our library buildings are getting better and better. The British Library has just achieved Grade 1 Listed status (see report here). It makes one’s heart rejoice. Time was when our churches and grand houses were the most accomplished buildings, but now it is our libraries. As an erstwhile book designer and printer, I salute this happy change and trust it does not mean that books will soon be as obsolescent as religion and privilege now appear to be.

There is just one little question in my mind. I have never worked in the new BL, though I spent many happy hours beavering away in the Reading Room of the old one. Is it a building that delights its users? Is it, in the phrase beloved of politicians, ‘fit for purpose’? I do hope so. There was a time in my life when I spent long hours in another award-winning library, the Seeley Library in Cambridge. It was the ugliest, most uncomfortable building I have ever read in. It almost killed my joy in history. Awards for one kind of excellence do not always equate to excellence in another. A building may be splendid in itself, but does it also fulfil its function splendidly?

When we came here to Howton Grove, the first thing we established was our oratory or chapel. Not long after came our library, with specially-made shelves, a good strong table and some comfortable chairs for readers. It is a mark of our reverence for the book and for learning that is characteristic of Benedictines the world over. Our library will never have listed status, but it is loved and used. Isn’t that what libraries are all about?


9 thoughts on “A Little Saturday Cheer”

  1. I personally find the BL very comfortable. The desks are large enough to spread oneself out, and now that one can order books online in advance,, it saves that awful hanging about period whilst one’s books were unearthed from some far distant stack. The ‘arts’ reading rooms are light and airy. I love the design of the building itself- the juxtaposition of the open plan of the great multi-layered atrium, and the little secret places. The cafés are good but a tad expensive. My caveat? Since the BL started a pretty much open door policy, it can be crammed to capacity, which is unpleasant. And v distracting as one gets into people watching instead of researching the task in hand.

  2. I think there is nothing to beat Duke Humfrey’s library in the Bodleian: I still have my ticket forbidding one to kindle flame. I was there in the power strike in 76, and there was a serious debate about whether we could use candles as in the other libraries. Permission came there none!

  3. I can’t say that I’ve strayed into public libraries of the grandeur described here.

    But I do remember happy days as a child in school libraries, once I learned to read and the world that books opened up for me. I do belong to our local library these days, but it’s full of computers and people doing their contact stuff for council services and children running about, enjoying themselves, so not a place to sit and try to concentrate sadly.

    And I am afraid that I have become hooked on buying books. Many are connected with my training for Lay Ministry, but others are not. For instance, how many Bibles does a person need? I have 9 at last count and each has it’s own beauty in language from the King James version too the latest New Living Translation in tactile, leatherette covers – and as for the contents…

    All in all, I have bought four books this week. Have just taken four ones with detective stories and some with military topics to a friend in hospital – I know that I will get them back – but the space on the book shelf is glaring at me… Oh dear, need to suppress the urge to fill the gaps.

  4. Once upon a time when we had space I had built up a library of over 12,000 books. Sadly we now live in a modern box, the books started to go in 2001, now I have very few. Books are now not only hard to read but too heavy for me to hold close enough to read. It is a sad sad loss. Yet the RNIB library keeps me going but really only in novels. I have been a bibliophile since I learned to read. I have lost my sense of smell and the scents I miss most are those of my books. Still life moves slowly to a close and with it the pleasures of earlier years. I though I had found a solution as a life member of Glasgow University library but sadly digital access I discovered is only available to registered students and staff members. I miss most, my history books and my collections of the writing of fathers …….

  5. I love the British Library. I did my MA at UCL, and the BL was about halfway between the hostel I lived in and college, so I spent a lot of time there. It’s a building that makes me happy, even though I’m not usually very keen on modern architecture. And I could spend vast amounts of money in the shop, if I had said amounts!

    A friend who was working there when it first opened told me that the building was intended to suggest a ship, which I rather like too.

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