Sunday, January 25, 2009


Libraries Through The Ages


Loucinda McGary of the Romance Bandits, who blogged here about the Library of Celsius in the Roman city of Ephesus, present-day Turkey, said, "The library was heaven on earth for me, and I'm definitely not the only one." Indeed not.

Luis Siriano Biblioburro Colombia Even children in Colombia's war-weary Caribbean hinterland hunger for the books that only Luis Soriano can bring them. Every Saturday without fail, Soriano loads up his two donkeys Alfa and Beto with picture books, dictionaries, fables, and tales of derring-do and heads off into the small villages clinging to steep hillsides. His home has hardly any living space because it's stuffed to the rafters with books.

A whimsical riff on the bookmobile, Soriano's Biblioburro is a small institution: one man and two donkeys. He created it out of the simple belief that the act of taking books to people who do not have them can somehow improve the lives of the people of this impoverished region.

Jay Walker's Geek LibraryDiametrically opposite to this is Jay Walker's lavish Geek Library, a bibliographic equivalent of a Disney ride. The room occupies about 3,600 square feet on three mazelike levels with artifacts, such as the Sputnik, books bound in real rubies, a 1665 Bills of Mortality chronicle of London, and a framed napkin from 1943 on which Franklin D. Roosevelt outlined his plan to win World War II. There's even a massive "book" by the window, which is a specially commissioned, internally lit 2.5-ton Clyde Lynds sculpture.

Keira Soleore LibraryKeira Soleore Book PileBy far more modest is my library...

...and the spill-over from my library, that's most likely to go on IKEA bookshelves in the study but is now piled up sculpture-style in one corner of the living room.

Nalanda University LibraryLibrary of Angkor WatSince ancient times, libraries and learning have reserved a revered place in human society and culture. Take for example: the 3rd century BCE Library of Alexandra, the Buddhist Nalanda University from 500 CE India, engraved oracle bone repositories of 1700 BCE China, Sumerian clay tablets from 4,000 BCE Iraq, and a 200,000-volume Library of Pergamum in the Hellinistic Age.

Library of AlexandriaWhile I'm more likely to keep graveyard hours than those averred by an old Sumerian proverb: "He who would excel in the school of the scribes must rise with the dawn," I'm in awe of the fact that women in early Mesopotamia learned to read and write just like the men, and there were libraries in most towns and temples. The ancients were rather modern in their outlook, wouldn't you say?

University of California San Diego's Geisel LibraryVancouver LibrarySpeaking of modern, library building designs these days, range from odes to the Romans, like the Vancouver Library in B.C., to the high-tech space of Geisel Library on the grounds of the University of California in San Diego, and everything in between.

Now, here's a library I would looooooooove to have. Which is your Library of Drool?

Whether your library is a humble bookmobile that comes every Saturday to your neighborhood cul-de-sac or a multi-storey building in a prime downtown spot, do you frequent the place?

[Editied to add photos of the Library of the House of Lords, UK. Oceans of drool...]




16 comments:

Maggie Robinson said...

I work in a high school library, you know, and there are lots of books besides YAs. But for most of my reading needs, I go to my lovely old stone public library in the college town I live in. In fact, I owe them money for overdue books, so I should stop in this week. I usually don't venture upstairs but stay down in the new addition where newer releases are kept. Upstairs is a little too close and confining, especially in the summer. Public libraries are a blessing, and the inter-library loan system is great, too.

Anna Campbell said...

I think a library is the height of civilization! Great post, Keira. I drooled over your last one. I still remember the library in Blenheim palace. Big leather sofas and books everywhere. I'd kill to have an actual room that's a library. You know that picture of me from the mag in the library - sadly, that wasn't MY library but believe me, I lusted after it! As it is, the house has bookcases squeezed into every spare space and as I've said before, the three-car garage doesn't contain a car but it does contain an awful lot of books!

Keira Soleore said...

Maggie, I adore our public library system. Free books. What an absolutely thrilling perk of being a citizen. Every year, through my husband's company's giving campaign, we support our county library system. It has given us such joy since the beginning. Every time, I'm down in the dumps, I just have to visit there, and I return smiling. It's like aromatherapy.

And I have to say: Those highschoolers are so lucky to have a librarian like you. They should be writing odes to you and building shrines, not just taking you par for the course.

Keira Soleore said...

Height of civilization -- wonderful characterization, Fo. Second time today that I'm marveling at your words. What magic veil have you thrown over me?!?! :)

Our home library is a small room, but it has a carpet, two of those double bookcases, framed Egyptian parchment paintings on the walls, a purple-blue (like your cover of CtC) chaise, and that fragrance and sight of books that I talked about above. Close the double-doors, lie on the chaise by the tall window partially shaded by a tree, and hold a book in your hand. Heaven on earth!

However, the greedy in me still lusts after taller, wider, and many more bookshelves and books, also with stuffed leather armchairs, couches, round drum tables, rectangular library tables, a map table, and the entire unabridged set of the OED with a reading lectern for them.

jo robertson said...

Keira, as always, your blog posts are chocked full of delightful information. I love libraries, too. Don't all writers?

I love visiting my local library which is nothing much to brag about, but which is close.

My daughter's local library in South Bend, Indian, home of Notre Dame, is magnificent. There's nearly everything to rent, from DVD's to -- my favorite -- frames copies of masters' paintings. She changes her wall decor every 6 weeks. How fun!

jo robertson said...

Oh, I should mention too, Maggie, that my local library has wonderful online service so I can renew my items several times, as well as put a hold on books.

Sadly, here is California with our budget crisis, the cutback is library staff is one of the first things to go.

jo robertson said...

Oops, sorry for all those typos, but you'll get the gist!

Keira Soleore said...

Jo, there was such shock in the book world when the library in the hometown of Steinbeck closed. You remember that year?

A very good friend of mine is a professor at Notre Dame and raves about the libraries (public and university) that are to be found there -- in the middle of nowhere, is her characterization of South Bend. :)

Renting paintings?? What a fabulous idea. I would never have thought of doing that. I would love me some real art, other than made-over posters brushed over with clear acrylic to mimic actual paint brushstrokes. :)

Keira Soleore said...

Oops, sorry for all those typos, but you'll get the gist!

I'm never able to post anything online without the Keira-isms. Typos seem to be par for the course of having Keira comment/post anywhere.

Cara King said...

Hmm...I could have sworn I left a comment earlier! I wonder if the blogmonster ate it...or if I was confused and left it on the wrong post??? :-)

Cara

Keira Soleore said...

No note from before, Cara. :( We've waxed poetic, lyric, and lusty about libraries many times. Perhaps one of those posts comes to mind???

Diane Gaston said...

You should see the stacks at the Library of Congress. My husband used to be able to take me into the stacks. Creepy places with rows and rows and rows of metal shelves filled with books.

It is so short-sighted to cut library budgets in bad economic times. It is happening here, though, at our local libraries.

jo robertson said...

Fraid your friend is right about South Bend, Keira, but there's something so exciting about a university town, isn't there?

My SIL is teaching history at Notre Dame on a post-doc!

Keira Soleore said...

Jo, I adore university towns. I went to grad school in Madison, WI and those the best three years of my life.

Diane, such a pity about library budget cuts, right? This is free entertainment when its tough to pay $10-$12 for a movie ticket, or going out to eat sets you back $30.

Oh that's right. I remember you telling us when you husband had worked there and he'd recently taken you for a tour. I was there 20 years ago, and I still remember it. Hope I can swing it again this July.

Louisa Cornell said...

The last photo, Keira, definitely! I could LIVE in that library! The summer my late DH attended school at the University of Alabama and I didn't attend school at all I went to school with him several days a week just so I could spend the day in the university library. HEAVEN! I am in the process of entering all of my books on LibraryThing and getting my writing studio ready to put wall to wall shelves for all of my books. Right now there are books in every room in the house and in the hallway! My brothers are taking bets on when the floors are going to cave in.

Speaking of libraries I just gave my first talk as Louisa Cornell tonight at our local library. It went really well AND I got a huge box of chocolates as an honorarium. YUM!!

Keira Soleore said...

Louisa, congratulations once again on shouting out to your local community: You are a writer!! "Life sure is a box of chocolates" sometimes, right? :)

On a whirlwind tour of Oxford, we had ten minutes inside Bodleian. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. Forget vestal virgins, harps, etc. I want Heaven paved with books.