Sunday, July 18, 2010

St. Paul's Cathedral Library - July 5

On Monday, July 5th we visited St. Paul's Cathedral Library and were greeted by Joseph Wisdom, the Librarian responsible for the collection. Mr. Wisdom is also joined by a Conservator, an Architectural Archivist and a Collections Manager. Together this team oversees a collection of approximately 21,500 volumes, including printed books, manuscripts and pamphlets. Although the majority of the original collection was destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666, lists from as far back as 1313 exist and provide an idea of what the library would have contained prior to the fire.

The current Cathedral is only the latest to occupy this site. A church has been here since 604AD! After the Great Fire the previous structure was deemed too unstable and Sir Christopher Wren was commissioned to design a grand new Cathedral in 1668 and construction was completed in 1710.

After climbing a nausea-inducing spiral staircase, Mr. Wisdom brought us to the gallery space on the triforium level. This level houses gallery space as well as the library. Our first stop along our tour was in a room that contains Wren's Great Model. This oak and plaster model was completed in 1673-4 for £600, the cost of a good home in London at the time. It was meant to serve as a guide to the builders in the event something happened to Wren. Also in this room were numerous drawings and plans of the project from Wren's office.

The next stop on our tour was the actual library. Wow! This room is exactly what I picture when I think of an old library. The floor-to-ceiling bookcases circling the room, dark wood furniture, a marble fireplace, a gallery running around the perimeter. When Mr. Wisdom opened the double-doors the smell of old books (and knowledge) permeated the air. The smell, we soon found out, is actually the result of off-gassing and decay...

Despite its old-fashioned appearance and atmosphere, the library has taken steps to remain modern. Approximately 85% of the collection has been cataloged using the MARC standard. Although it is no longer utilitarian, the library is available to researchers by appointment several days a week. According to the library's website: "
The subject strength of the historical collections lies in theology, church history and patristics. Current acquisitions are restricted to major works on the history of the Church in England, on Wren and the building of the Cathedral, the Church in the City, and 'alumni' material."

Photographs from St. Paul's Cathedral's website:

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