Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Exit Libris

Recently I witnessed the deaccessioning of the contents of a good and long-established design library - seemingly for nothing more than a whim of a new administrator with a notion that databases alone suffice for the 21st century student. The contents of the library are gone, distributed to anyone who would collect them. I didn't understand it, despite having to listen to the cant that justified the library's dissolution. Other than to highlight a fundamental cultural difference between that administrator and me, what more is there to say? 

So it is with pleasure I post a few pictures of recently created extensions to an existing private library. I woke up in the night thinking about this library, my own library and the romance of libraries. 

The owner of the house, a book-collector (ya think?) urgently needing more space for his collection first renovated the old hunting dogs' kennels in the garden. When they filled up, and being a little too far away from the house the owner and his architect came upon the idea of adapting a shipping container and siting it near the house and planning it to be the first of a collection of recycled shipping containers. Now, that is some serious collecting and some serious reading to be got through. 

Our library is housed a little more conventionally in newly-built shelves in what was the second bedroom. It is an odd thing, this liking of books, the need to own and the pleasure of having a few, perhaps unread, on the coffee table. Whilst I'm on the subject of books let me say that they belong on shelves, in stacks by chairs, behind glass and on tables. Books do not belong under a lamp, a vase, or as pedestals for chotzkas however cute those objects might be. Whereas the man referred to above goes out into the grounds in the middle of the dark, stormy night for a book he left behind, I pad barefoot across a cool wooden floor. Each to his own.  

After that little bit of hubris, let me ask who would not like if the night were stormy to sit in either the lamplit container or kennels book in hand listening to the music of rain on the roof? Who on a rainy night or even a soft summer's eve would not want to open the doors to the air and let in the night fliers, moths and the flying daddy-longlegs, or jinny-spinners as I know them, to keep company? Who could not find beauty and peace sitting by a library window watching the first snow blanket settle? Who could not as I do this evening sit at a laptop and find beauty and awe in a spectacular soundless lightening display - whole skies-full of light silhouetting the clouds? Who could not make a connection between the cultivation of land and the cultivation of the mind? An idyll perhaps, and romantic for sure, but enlightening and essential to both civility and civilization. 

To finish where I began, despite my unease with the dispersal of a library, I have to say other institutions were able to benefit as were faculty and students. Libraries like gardens are not forever for when their lovers are gone ... 

Photos, James Mortimer. WoI May 2008.


  1. It seems an odd action to take on the part of an educational establishment. Still, as you say, at least the books were not destroyed but recycled into the larger community - unfortunately I wasn't there!

    I am not too bothered about a lot of stuff that goes on in the local community, but libraries are a passion and I would be on the barricades to save ours. There was a public library in London recently that was closed by the local council with no prior warning to the general public. The books were bundled off somewhere and no one knowws where. So what did the local community do? They opened up their own informal library outside the now closed public one. A good publicity stunt and I hope it shamed the council, though they were probably indifferent.

    As to private libraries, my home is probably groaning from having too many books stuffed into our tiny house, but I love them and I won't part with them!

  2. When I first heard about the library being given away I was horrified and to some extent still am but I have left that institution and its administrator and moved on. Looking back it was the theory behind the dispersal that disturbs me the most. I think my post yesterday was just getting rid of the remnant of feeling about what I equate to a bad marriage and being finally able to get out of it and learn from it. I'd like to say our books are contained in the new library but they leak out all over the place.