I have an image in my mind of my perfect library. The image has changed over the years, influenced by the Biltmore House Library, the library in Disney's Beauty and the Beast, and Harry Potter. I never thought I'd see this library in real life, but I found myself there yesterday when I walked into the St. Paul's Cathedral Library:
Our tour of the St. Paul's Library was led by the librarian, Joseph Wisdom. He brought us part way up the circular stairs that lead to dome and led us off a side exit into a hallway in the triforium level. We passed the lapadarium, a collection of stones and fragments from previous cathedrals that have stood on the St. Paul's site. The hall felt unused and mysterious, almost as if it contained a doorway to another world.
We took a side trip to view the Geometric Staircase from above. The image below shows the staircase from below, but it gives the general idea.
We also visited the room in the north triforium that houses Christopher Wren's Great Model of his original design for the Cathedral. The room was originally intended by Wren to be a library and books appear as a prominent design element in the stonework.
When we entered the actual library, I was struck by the scent of old books. Faint sunlight came in through high windows. Despite the high arched ceilings, the room felt cozy and secret. It was a little like finding that secret passageway into a room forgotten by time. The lower walls are lined with floor to ceiling shelves of leather-bound books. A cozy fireplace stands at one end of the room The gallery (an afterthought in the design of the room) includes beautiful brackets designed by Jonathan Maine. The walls of the gallery are also lined with shelves. The open space of the room is filled with tables covered with books.
The library is run by a librarian, a conservator, a collections manager, and an architectural archivist. The librarian was actually a member of the clergy until the mid 20th century.
The books and manuscripts from the previous cathedral library were destroyed along with the cathedral in the Great Fire of London in 1066. The present library was planned as a part of Christopher Wren's design for the new cathedral. The new collection was kick-started by a donation of 2000 books by Henry Compton, Bishop of London.
The cathedral library collection is heavily focused on works of theology. It also presently collects items concerning Christopher Wren, the life of the church in the city of London, and St. Paul's alumni materials. The items are cataloged in accordance with AACR. Records are imported where possible from OCLC and records for unique items are cataloged as needed.
The library is primarily for use by the Church. Access is granted to outside researchers who demonstrate a need for item(s) in the collection. The library is considering making the library more accessible to the public, possibly by creating a public reading room. They are currently evaluating environmental, preservation, and security concerns and are working to come up with a solution.
For more information, please see The St. Paul's Cathedral Library website.
Images courtesy of St. Paul's Cathedral Website.