Beautiful Libraries

Beautiful Libraries

In our new series Beautiful Libraries we’ll be visiting some of the world’s most interesting and historical book hoards.  Do you know of a beautiful or historic library?  Tell us where it is and what makes it special.

Hereford Cathedral Chained Library
Hereford Cathedral Library

First up is the famed CHAINED LIBRARY at Hereford Cathedral which has been around nigh on a thousand years. It’d be hard to make away with any of these volumes stuffed up your jumper, but locking them up does keep them from wandering off down the pub.

Merton library
Merton College Library, Oxford

Next on our tour of Beautiful Libraries: Merton College Library at Oxford. Founded in 1276, Merton is reckoned the “world’s oldest continuously functioning library for university academics and students”. The result of a bit of dubious requisitioning, the Archbishop of Canterbury directed that “any books that Fellows brought with them to the College, or acquired during residence, should remain at Merton”.  Wow, hand over your books mate.

Long room of the library at Trinity College Dublin
Trinity College Library

Beautiful Library No. 3:  Founded in 1592, Trinity College Library is utterly wonderful.  Home to the ‘Book of Kells‘, it also houses a 15th century harp of oak and willow which is the model for the emblem of Ireland.  Get thee to Dublin for a visit.

Mackintosh library Glasgow school of art
Glasgow School of Art

The Beautiful Library at the Glasgow School of Art:  After years of evening art classes while also working part time for a local architect, Charles Rennie Mackintosh gained the commission to design a new building for the GSA in 1896.  The library housed records of the Glasgow School of Art from 1845.
Tragically, in 2018 a devastating fire destroyed both the irreplaceable library and much of the art school.

Rylands Library
John Rylands Library, University of Manchester

Widely reckoned to be the most valuable books in the world, only 48 whole and partial copies of the original Gutenberg Bible (1455) now exist.  The beautiful John Rylands Library at the University of Manchester is home to one of them as part of its astounding archive.  Also among their Special Collection are the St John Fragment, a piece of the original gospel of St John (9 cm on Greek papyri), the St Christopher Woodcut, earliest known European print (1423), and all four Shakespeare Folios (1623, 1632, 1664, 1685) plus the 1609 quarto edition of Mr Shakespeare’s Sonnets.  Really.

Old Reading Room at the British Museum
British Museum Reading Room

Walking into the the Old British Reading Room at the British Museum was spectacular.  Back in 2001 it was still open to the public. Situated at the heart of the museum forming the centre of the Great Court, Syndey Smirke’s design is sublime.  Flooded with light it feels both airy and grounded, the mind can really expand in a place like this.  Access to the Reading Room is now restricted to special exhibitions.

The British Museum is the oldest museum in the world (1753) and keeper of some of the world’s most important cultural treasures.  My most recent favourite room is the Room of Enlightenment.  Directly off the Great Court it houses an astonishing array of artefacts from the 18th century’s age of reason, learning and scientific development.  Riches indeed.

Sir Duncan Rice Library University of Aberdeen
Rice Library, University of Aberdeen

The stunning design of the Sir Duncan Rice LIbrary at the University of Aberdeen was inspired by ‘the ice and light of the north’ by Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects in 2012.  The collection includes Arts & Humanities, Sciences &  Social Sciences as well as historic collections of rare books and manuscripts.  Be worth going to Uni Aberdeen just to study here.  #Gorgeous.

“Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future.” Ray Bradbury

2 thoughts on “Beautiful Libraries

  1. Maria Kasper

    The British Museum reading room must have been something to see — 25 miles (!) of shelves? But you needed a special Ticket to be allowed in? These must have been very rare books. Reminds me of Helene Hanff’s lament about being stuck in the NY Public Library reading room with books that weren’t permitted to leave custody.

    1. Meg Green

      Bit of a golden cage for Helen Hanff. The ‘special Reader’s Ticket’ was issued to you upon entry. It helped them keep track of you and ensure you followed the rules.

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