17 July, 2007

St. Paul's Cathedral Library

Today we were fortunate enough to have a tour of St. Paul's Cathedral Library. In order to get to the library itself, we had to climb a massive, suspended spiral staircase. It reminded me a little of the spiral staircase in the Vatican in Rome. St.Paul's Cathedral was built by Christopher Wren in the 17th century. Before he built the cathedral he made a wooden model that needed to be approved by the church before building could commence. We had the opportunity to see the Great Model, which is housed in an upstairs room of the Cathedral. I think it is interesting that the original model that he designed was rejected because it looked "too Catholic".

As we entered the room that has been the library for the past 300 years, my eyes immediately were drawn to the beautiful white vaulted ceiling. The librarian remarked that he thought the ceiling's design was fitting for a library because it 'allowed your thoughts to soar.' One of the carvings on the wall was of a skull with two books, wheat, and grapes perhaps implying that this is a room devoted to learning in support of the church. Most of the fittings in the room are from the 19th century when the library was redone. The librarian mentioned that most of the original library collection was lost in the Great Fire of London in 1666. After the fire, the main concern was how to build up library collections again as quickly as possible. A bishop donated 2000 books that survived the fire and other collections from senior clergy were brought in so that three libraries of duplicates were built right away.
Today the library is open to anyone who can make good use of it. The librarian speaks with potential users to determine why they need to do research here and what they will need to be looking at. Readers are not allowed to handle more than three documents at a time. The librarian and conservation staff try their best to balance the tasks of protecting their collection and providing access to it for the public.

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