I love libraries. I love books. I especially love both together, and with a fine patina of age. These are the reasons I originally considered library school, as I thought it might be a good track to take for becoming an antiquarian book dealer.

That was a long time ago though, and when, in 2010, I finally did go for my master’s in “library and information studies” (MLIS), the field was undergoing some very drastic changes. However, despite the fact that a modern MLIS degree has almost nothing to do with hard-copy books, per se (and that’s a topic for a different time! Wooo boy), I’m still pretty enamored of the things.

The gallery in the Old Library

Photo by Irish Welcome Tours. Used with permission via Flicker CC.

I was floating through flickr creative commons, haunting the “library” tag (as you do) and saw pictures of the Old Library at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. The place is outstandingly beautiful and I decided it needed a post dedicated to its honor. I’m a librarian – of course I did.

It’s not a lending library, nor is it one of those comfy-cozy libraries where you wander among the stacks, pluck a book off the shelves, and settle in at a table or padded chair for a good long afternoon read. The Old Library is far statelier than that, a museum-cum-library that recalls the majestic expanses of European cathedrals. Personally, as both a librarian and book lover, I would need nothing more than to simply bask in the glory of such a place, feeling humbled by its hallowed, rarefied atmosphere.

This gorgeous building is called the “Old” library because while it is just one of many libraries the college has, it is the original. The main space is the Long Room, a 213 foot long chamber with a vaulted barrel ceiling that houses 200,000 of the library’s oldest books.

The original portion was built between 1712 and 1732, while the current barrel-vaulted ceiling was added in 1860. Ironically, the 1860 addition was made primarily because the library was running out of space, but the librarians at the time vociferously opposed it, claiming the vaulted ceiling – now so admired – was the equivalent of vandalism. Everyone hates change, I guess, but I am, for once, glad the librarians lost their battle.

The old Old Library, before they literally raised the roof

The old Old Library, before they literally raised the roof

But, you know, let’s go back to that start date: 1712. This was the year the very first commercial steam engine was installed (the “Newcomen Atmospheric Engine”) so this library is as old as steampunk. When you read your next steampunk novel, think of the Old Library.

1712 is also 64 years before the American Revolution, which, since I am an American, I tend to use as my “time line yardstick.” I think it is one reason I look at pictures of the Old Library and see an ancient realm of arcane knowledge – because anything prior to the Revolution is basically primordial ooze as far as Americans are concerned (you don’t believe me, read one of our high school history textbooks).

Old Library shelves

Photo by Bruce Washburn. Used with permission via Flickr CC.

Perhaps its greatest claim to fame is that it is home to the Book of Kells, the magnificent Celtic illustrated manuscript that was created in c. 800 c.e. It actually came to the Trinity College in 1661, at which time it was already about 800 years old. I still cannot wrap my mind around that. Lesser known works such as the Book of Durrow (circa 700 c.e.) are also stored there. Think about it: that book was written about 1000 years BEFORE the American Revolution! Were there even people back then? Hard to believe.

This majestic edifice is definitely on my bucket list to visit, someday. I want to stand in that glorious gallery and listen for the shuffling murmurs of all the librarians who came before me…


Wikipedia entry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trinity_College_Library

Trinity College’s page on the Old Library: http://www.tcd.ie/Library/bookofkells/old-library/

Celsus page: https://libraryarchitecture.wikispaces.com/Old+Library,+Trinity+College+Library,+Dublin,+Ireland+(Historical+Library)

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