Monday, July 2, 2012

St Paul's Library

Photo of St Paul's Library from the World Monuments Fund.
 Above the main entrance to St Paul`s Cathedral, is a stone relief of a book which represents the word of God, and is indicative of the Sola scriptura of protestant values, which maintains that the scripture is the highest authority for Christian faith. But the church does not speak with one voice, of one era, or of one opinion.

There has been a church standing in this spot since the 600s. The church archive is a testament to the previous lives that have passed here. Norman, Gothic, and Roman stones are placed in the archive as they are recovered. The pulpits that have gone in and out of fashion after so many years of service are saved as the archive is able. We passed two consecutive pulpits, one of which was an ornate wooden, rounded stand, and the other a massive marble, ostentatious work which replaced it. We were part of a tour lead by the librarian, Joseph Wisdom, who shared so much wonderful information about the archive and the library.

Photo of Christopher Wren's Model for
the Cathedral from the World Monuments Fund.
One of the original library chambers now houses the enormous model for Sir Christopher Wren`s third design for the Cathedral, which was rejected. Wren produced a large volume of drawings during his design process because he wanted to maintain minute control over his designs. This means that the church archive is in possession of a great deal of his drawings, which must be properly maintained and exhibited, for the benefit of the church and community, sometimes at great expense. The walls are decorated with beautiful reliefs which depict books, inkwells, and flowers.

The library contains around 23,000 bibliographic items, some of which are bound together. Unique items in the collection are in the process of being digitized and some are digitized on demand. The influx of books that took place in the 19th century, when printing truly took hold in Britain, meant that many libraries began to have issues with space. Often libraries send their duplicate copies to St Paul`s.

Photo of St Paul's Library
 bookshelves from the World Monuments Fund.
In many libraries, particularly those that contain so many artifacts of value, there is strain between the use of books as artifacts and books as information. St Paul's organization and policies denote a great awareness of these conflicts. The library and archives are represented on three fronts: Museums, Libraries, and Archives. Most of the archival materials are kept at another location, and there is an entirely separate architectural archive. Any researcher may use the library by appointment.

The history of this institution in truly amazing in length and depth. One cannot help but be in awe of both the importance of the collection amassed here and the care with which it is safeguarded. I can only hope that my studies will bring me here one day.

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