Thursday, July 29, 2010

St. Paul's Cathedral Library

For such an impressive building, one would never have guessed that the architect of St. Paul's Cathedral, Sir Christopher Wren, never had a concrete design when engaging in its construction. Personally speaking, this is the level of "winging it" that we should all aspire to. Moreover, in a manner befitting the nature of its construction, the St. Paul's Cathedral Library is filled with an incredible hodgepodge of exhibits, including stonework from the five previous cathedrals (referred to as a lapidarium) which had stood on this spot , as well as numerous architectural drawings, blueprints and an accurate scale model of of the cathedral itself. While I have seen impressive collections of realia in the past, it is hard to draw a comparison when faced with such a wealth of historical objects. Furthermore, all across the stonework, one can observe symbols of learning and libraries, including books, pens and paper, as well as numerous Latin inscriptions related to the fields of scholarship and libraries. One of my favorites was a quotation from Ecclesiastes 12:12, which when translated reads "Of making many books, there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh."

As for the Library itself, upon our group entering, the curator Mr. Wisdom asked if we could identify the nature of the much loved "old book smell." It was much to the surprise of the group, and certainly myself, to discover that this enticing aroma was actually the result of "off-gassing," which is to say the degradation of paper and leather from these materials reacting to the environment. Continuing on, Mr. Wisdom informed us that the library staff consisted of himself, a collections manager, a senior conservator and an archivist, who help maintain and preserve the collection, which consists of one linear mile of shelving. The main subjects areas of the library are Theology and Politics (no doubt the most important subjects of their day for gaining power and influence) and has items ranging back to the 17th century, and that many members, donators and leaders of the library were from holy orders, and belonged to both major and minor cannons of the church. However, with the advent of modern technology, there has been a recent initiative of technological progress, leading to their beginning work on online catalogs and internet resources.

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