Wednesday, 5 August 2009

The Perfect Library

The library in the Beast's Castle - Beauty and the Beast

I am waiting for the remaining books on the Booker long list to come in to my local library which has led me to think about what makes the 'perfect library'. Should it be dark and musty or bright and clean? Millions of books stacked higgledy-piggledy or all in neat, orderly rows? Let me know about your favourite library.

In Disney's wonderfully saccharine animated film, Beauty and the Beast, the Beast gives Belle this huge library - the ultimate gift. With more books than she can ever read in her lifetime (or if she can, I am really inadequate). Belle was without a doubt my favourite Disney character as she had brown hair, brown eyes and was obsessed with books.

Moving away from the realms of fantasy, my favourite library has to be the University of London Library at Senate House (pictured below). Senate House was built between 1932-37 and was the inspiration for the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. As an English Literature student I would spend many autumnal days searching through the dusty shelves for books on anything from Woolf to early printing presses. The interior of the library is strikingly early twentieth century with parquet floors and original 1930s light fittings. It is a haven for those in love with modernist literature as the surroundings evoke the contents of the books perfectly. One of my best times at university was spent in the Special Collections room studying the original 1628 copy of The World Encompassed by Sir Francis Drake. A real opportunity for a 19 year old student.

The library does offer membership to non-students, so you can go and explore the literary idyll yourself.

Senate House Library, Malet Street, London


  1. I used to live on Store Street and pass through Senate House on the way to the Russell Square Tube Station. Sadly, I never went into the library. A tight shot of the building with an American flag out front was used for an episode of the Laurie/Fry Jeeves and Wooster where they went to New York.

    A little hard for me to choose my favorite library. On pure charm, I would have to say the tiny library on Monhegan Island off the coast of Maine. A charming little house with a fireplace and stuffed with books.

    When it comes to finding books and media on every subject under the sun, I do miss having access to the great research libraries at the University of Minnesota and Cornell University where I got my underdraduate and graduate degrees. Alas, the Library of Congress here in DC is certainly a great resource, but does not really lend itself to the same kind of explorations I undertook at Minnesota and Cornell where fascinating serendipitous finds were the rule not the exception.

    Growing up I lived about 10 houses away from the public library. I was there every chance I got. By the time I worked there as a page in High School I knew every inch of that place.

  2. The library on Monhegan Island looks absolutely lovely and is certainly very charming. I really want to visit Maine so I will be sure to put this on my list of places to go.
    Public libraries are such a great resource - there should be one 10 houses away from the entire population!