Wednesday, March 19, 2008

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At the New York Sun, Eric Ormsby on Alberto Manguel's new book about libraries:
Mr. Manguel frames his forays into the world of the library, ancient and modern, real as well as imagined, with an account of his own rather stupendous personal library. A native of Buenos Aires who lived for many years in Canada, he has for the past eight years housed his collection of more than 30,000 volumes in a painstakingly renovated hilltop barn in France. At each stage he faces perplexing problems, and his resolution of them leads him into consideration of wider issues, all of which illustrate the "labyrinthine logic" of libraries. At first, he wants all of his books to be shelved within easy reach; when this proves impractical and he must build his shelves from baseboard to ceiling, he discusses the solutions other bibliophiles have entertained, some of them quite fantastic. The poet Lionel Johnson, for example, "was so pressed for room that he devised shelves suspended from the ceiling, like chandeliers." In the Althorp library, in Northampton, the Earl Spencer constructed a towering mahogany ladder on wheels that sported a crow's nest at the top where he could read in peace. (The book is beautifully illustrated, and there's a particularly imposing reproduction of this eccentric contraption, which looks more like a siege machine than a library ladder.)
I think I have probably missed my moment, but I have always had a fantasy of living in a loft-like apartment into which has been imported a full set of old-school steel staircases and shelves and floors salvaged from some defunct library--it seems to me the ideal design for living. The main branch of the Cambridge Public Library in Massachusetts had a very good instance of this--and at Columbia, the best example that I've encountered is in the science library...

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