|Medieval shelving in Duke Humfrey's Library|
Entering the hallway with the medieval library (called Duke Humfrey's Library) was like stepping out of a time machine. You can feel the weight of the ages in a room this old, and it pained me not to be able to take photos of such a beautiful space. (The photograph to the right is courtesy of TripAdvisor.) The shelves in the library are short, long, and set perpendicular to the walls rather than the floor-to-ceiling wall shelving that would later become popular. This was an effort to protect the books from dampness that might come seeping through the walls. Interestingly, the books were once stored in these areas horizontally until the library staff realized around 1600 that 10 times more books could fit in the space if they were stored upright. If I had unlimited space, I would actually prefer to store my books horizontally because I like the way it looks. I guess this makes me very old fashioned, at least in that regard.
|Selden End expansion|
This building in many ways reflects the old notion of librarians as guardians of the collections. It defeats the notion of a modern library to hoard books as if the patrons are thieves and destroyers rather than seekers of knowledge. Much of this stems from books' rarity before the invention and widespread use of the printing press, but it still strikes those from modern society as a little outrageous.
One of my favorite stories about the library during our tour was about the boys who worked underground in the early 1900s carting books from storage to the library. These "Bodley Boys" were hand-picked by the librarian for their intelligence. The poor boys who would otherwise have had no formal education were allowed to take books home with them. They would return to the library after reading their books to discuss what they had learned with the librarian. This generosity towards the poor was surprising and the librarian's thinking was far ahead of his time.