The Most Beautiful Libraries in the World

[Jacques Bosser (Author), Guillaume de Laubier (Photographer), Laurel Hirsch (Translator), James H. Billington (Foreword)]

From the hard-covered book “The Most Beautiful Libraries in the World”, library lovers will find the following quotes dear to them.  Though cannot show the breath-taking pictures in the book, I have found boredstop.com contains similar photos.  Be sure you click here to visit.

 

“One must spend hours upon hours, and days upon days in the cocoon of a great library in order to understand and love the cozy isolation that it can provide.  Some people will never break away from its spell and remain eternal readers, having lost the desire to discover the real world.  Others will know how to find in libraries both knowledge and its instruments.

 

The history of libraries almost starts with the advent of writing, which not only enabled the conveying of orders and ideas, but also their preservation.  In the third millennium BC in Sumer, people began to put slate tablets with cuneiform writing scratched into them in a special room, placing them in baskets or jars set on wooden shelves.  A shelving system and vertical classification similar to what we use in our libraries today was even discovered in Ras Shamra’s “library” (c. 2000 BC).  In Egypt, an inscription dating from approximately 2500 BC mentions the existence of a scribe at “the house of books” where rolls of papyrus were kept…

 

A painting in my office in the Library of Congress’s Thomas Jefferson Building bears the Latin inscription Liber dilectatio anime: Books, the delight of the soulAll libraries celebrate this delight, which is reinforced by the sheer beauty of the libraries featured in the pages of The Most Beautiful Libraries in the World.  The libraries in this book are special because they ally architecture with literature.

 

Unlike many of the libraries of Europe, which were designed for an elite, Smithmeyer and Pelz were charged with rendering plans for a Library for the masses.  Smithmeyer felt that it should provide the people with ‘the insight into the colossal array of knowledge which the human mind has accumulated and still gathers together, and into the enormous machinery required for the access to and the utilization of every part of these intellectual riches.’

 

…This prestige was not based upon the grandeur of the building, but rather, upon the library’s essential role in the creation of a tool destined to preserve and disseminate knowledge throughout Greece’s vast field of influence.  Ptolemy Soter, who may have been Alexander the Great’s half-brother, reigned over Egypt and several Mediterranean and Ionian islands.  Wanting to transform his capital, Alexandria, into the center of the Greek world, he founded an establishment dedicated to the muses – a museumThere poets, philosophers, scholars, mathematicians, students, and priests could reflect upon and exchange ideas, write, and compose.  A rapidly growing library was at their disposal…

 

…The Alexandria Library reminds us that all human endeavors are organic – they are born, they live, and then die.  As long as a library is both useful and is used, it will grow.  When it no longer answers to its calling, in time it will lose its importance and, at best, its rich collections will be consulted only by historians, if by anyone at all… The great monastery libraries were, for a long time, the seat of knowledge where one could study not only the works of the Church fathers (in Greek and Latin), but also those of Greek and Latin philosophers as well as Arab scholars.  These libraries were instrumental in the establishment of the power of the Catholic Church… the center of learning had once been the monastery, it now became the university.  The Roman Catholic Church’s opposition to the powerful humanist and scientific movement that began sweeping across Europe at the end of the Middle Ages and its rejection of the Enlightenment, gradually caused philosophers, scholars, and students to turn away from the Church.  Beginning in the seventeenth century, kings and princes, such as Mazarin and the Austrian emperor Charles VI, opened their libraries to the public.  Universities, whose ties with religious hierarchies (whether Catholic, Protestant, or Anglican) had disintegrated, built (at considerable cost) great libraries such as those in Cambridge, Dublin, Coimbra, and Bologna.  And finally, in the nineteenth century, states and cities began to create large libraries which, for the most part, were open to the public and covered all fields of knowledgeToday, the intellectual prestige of a country is still based upon its network of libraries, how much it is used, how well it is organized, and it is computerized.  Culture, most broadly defined, is at last there for everyone.

 

What will our libraries be like in fifty years?  Will we continue to build ever-bigger buildings to house the endless tide of books, periodicals, recordings, photographs, and films produced throughout the world?  It is quite possible that computers will completely replace libraries – at least we now think of them.  First a national server, then a European one, and finally a worldwide center, accessible from anyone’s home, might replace these marvelous reading rooms where so many students, researchers, writers, and scholars have come together during the past centuries.  The future, radiant as it may be, sometimes also elicits nostalgia for the past.”

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