LIS 580 British Studies
St Paul's Cathedral Library
June 6, 2016
Today we toured the St Paul's Cathedral Library. Our guide was Joseph Wisdom, Librarian.
Five cathedrals have stood on the site where St Paul's currently stands. The most recent iteration was designed after the great London fire of 1666. The great Architect Christopher Wren was commissioned to rebuild the Cathedral. The Library is part of the beautiful architectural symmetry of the Cathedral, although its sister room across the way is not currently used as a library space. Mostly comprised of theological texts, it also contains objects, inventions (e.g. a telescope), and books on natural philosophy and other topics obtained from whole library donations. It is housed in a series of beautiful wooden shelves with ornate ironwork supports and a gallery. The stone that surrounds the library is also beautifully carved and windows from the gallery allow natural light in. There are beautiful portraits honoring Bishops, benefactors, and Librarians from the past. We were surprised to note that the books were shelved by size. The catalog is static in that there is a place for everything and everything in its place. Books have a permanent geographic home on the shelves unlike a modern Academic or Public Library where we shift shelves and bookends and we find items by their call numbers.
Mr. Wisdom was so charming and quotable. His presentation focused on librarianship, but it was not without humor. He said that Dewey is a great way to catalog and shelve items but after two decimal places one "loses the will to live". He used the Socratic method to draw us in and encouraged our participation. I learned that the deteriorating nature of acidic papers is only of concern after the late 18oo's when wood pulp was used to make paper. I learned that Napoleon used to throw books out of his carriage window after he was finished with them. I learned that the 1st principle of conservation is reversibility. He challenged us to review the idea that we must capture an image of everything. The digitization of an artifact does not hold the same value as the artifact itself. And yet a surrogate item does not demean the original article. The St. Paul's Cathedral Library has not digitized much of its collection (about 30 texts by his estimation).
We were sad to have to end our visit, but it was for such a prestigious reason. Mr. Wisdom had to go review the notes for the Service for the Queen's Birthday Celebration.
Memorable non-sequitur: After climbing many stairs to the library level we were asked to "mind the four steps" leading us into another room.
Before our visit to St. Paul's we saw the Temple Bar. Originally a city gate of the City of London, now it sits behind St. Pauls. The top is a room that can be used as a banquet hall.
Movie I was reminded of: Mary Poppins
Books added to my booklist: Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers; Myself, Christopher Wren by David Weiss