I saw the headline and was intriqued. Photographing libraries around the world. Massimo Listris's work pulled me in. I looked at every image, in awe of the beauty of libraries and the world of books.
Stiftsbibliothek, Kremsmunter, Austria, a monestary library built between 1680 and 1689.
photo by Massimo Listris, from his Photographing Libraries series. See them at:
https://www.yahoo.com/news/photographer-travels-globe-capture-worlds-slideshow-wp-151728478.html"This photographer has an incredible body of work after traveling the globe to capture images of some of the world’s most beautiful libraries. Massimo Listris’s 30-year pursuit has taken him to the likes of medieval chambers and 19th-century wonders. In some images, rich mahogany lights up rooms, and in others, grand statues, globes and ceiling installations capture the eye. The photographer, from Florence, Italy, said that everything about these grand venues attracts him — from the simple smell of dust, leather and wood, to the pleasure of opening an aged book (Caters News)."
Looking through the Massimo Listris series took me back to my childhood and my learning years in college and beyond. I grew up in libraries, loved them, loved books, wanted to devour them all. I remember thinking as a little girl in Rochester, New York, and later when I studied at Wheaton College (MA) and at the University of Wisconsin, that I would never be able to read all the books the libraries held or absorb all the knowledge they contained. But I loved the feeling of being in a library. Reading and research on a computer doesn't hold a candle to that experience.
|Trinity College Library, Dublin.|
Closer to home, I think of the historic Carnegie Libraries. These libraries dot the American cultural landscape and are worth a dedicated photographer of their own (see below for the architecture of some of them). What a treasure the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie bequeathed to us! He started building libraries in Scotland, where he was born, then built at least six public libraries in the Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, area, his adopted home town, the land of steel mills and heavy industry in his time. Architectural critic Patricia Lowry wrote, "To this day, Carnegie's free libraries remain Pittsburgh's most significant cultural export, a gift that has shaped the minds and lives of millions."
On the eve of a new century, in 1899, the Carnegie foundation greatly increased its funding for more and more libraries. This increase coincided with the rise of the Women Clubs movement and the emergence of women social reformers like Jane Addams in every city and town across the land.
These women, many the first generation of college-educated women (imagine!), had few opportunities outside of teaching, but they searched for a life of purpose. They found it in turning to public service and strengthening communities from the bottom up. Women were always the pioneers and leaders in social reform in America, although when men took over, as in the Anti-Slavery movement or the Progressive era, it was the men who made the history books.
As Carnegie made more funding available, women stepped up to organize local efforts to establish libraries for all communities, including African-American communities. This convergence of Carnegie's philanthropy and women's social activism, a story that deserves broader telling, produced beautiful libraries for millions of Americans.
By the 1930s, a total of 2,509 libraries were built. Their impact on young minds is beyond measure. Most still serve as havens of learning in communities large and small, in towns,villages and rural outposts, and most remain handsome structures.
So many writers, like Maya Angelou, remember the influence these libraries had on them. “A library is a rainbow in the clouds,” Angelou said, recalling the time she was a little girl, abused and mute, refusing to speak, who found a haven, a save harbour, in her school library in a little town in Arkansas. No doubt it was women who made sure that town had a library.
|In praise of Libraries|
“You never know what troubled little girl
needs a book,” Nikki Giovanni wrote in one of her
“Knowledge sets us free, art sets us free.
A great library is freedom,” Ursula K. Le Guin asserted
in her beautiful essay on the sacredness of public libraries.
“When a library is open, no matter its size or shape,
democracy is open too,” wrote Bill Moyers
Here in northwest Ohio, we are fortunate to have the Toledo/Lucas County Public Library and its many branches. My kids and grandkids have benefitted from having such a great library system close at hand.
Alas, it's also true that the older they get the less they use it in favor of their smart phones and online research, homework, and social media. I think it's a shame, but my grandkids think I'm just "old fashioned."
On the other hand, libraries have been on the front lines in responding to these changes. Now we can take advantage of the fact that they are wired, their collections digitized, and their myriad services easily accessible online. My friend Judi, at the wise age of 83, has books, videos, and those wonderful PBS Masterpeice series sent to her home regularly. She's also a big fan of Tom Hanks and the library has sent her every movie he's ever made. The Library makes her life, and the lives of many seniors, fuller, happier.
|Our Toledo Public Library, Main Branch in downtown Toledo, Ohio.|
Exterior, grand hall entrance, stacks.
|The Library of Congress. Three buildings, the oldest the Jefferson Building, one of the most beautiful buildings in DC, and the newest the Madison building, where I worked in the NAACP Anti-Lynching Campaign papers.|
|Boston Public Library.|
At the other end of the country, there's the University of California at Berkeley Library. It shines brilliantly on the classical campus, well used and well loved. It brings back memories of a visit to my dear friend Doris a few years back. We took a wonderful stroll on the campus, my first time there. As we entered the Library reading room, we were greeted by that wonderful sculpture of Mark Twain, looking thoughtful and happy.
Some sources and readings:
* Book of Kells, at Trinity College Library, Dubin, Wikipedia "The Book of Kells (Latin: Codex Cenannensis; Irish: Leabhar Cheanannais; Dublin, Trinity College Library, MS A. I. , sometimes known as the Book of Columba) is an illuminated manuscript Gospel book in Latin, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament together with various prefatory texts and tables. It was created in a Columban monastery in either Britain or Ireland and may have had contributions from various Columban institutions from both Britain and Ireland. It is believed to have been created c. 800 AD. The text of the Gospels is largely drawn from the Vulgate, although it also includes several passages drawn from the earlier versions of the Bible known as the Vetus Latina. It is a masterwork of Western calligraphy and represents the pinnacle of Insular illumination. It is also widely regarded as Ireland's finest national treasure."
* On the importance of libraries to African-American writers, and to all writers: https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/11/18/maya-angelou-library/ . "It is amazing, for me, to have been taken to a library when I was eight. I had been abused and I returned to a little village in Arkansas. And a black lady… knew I wasn’t speaking — I refused to speak — for six years I was a volunteer mute. She took me to library in the black school. The library probably had 300 books...The books were given to the black school from the white school and, often, there were no backs on the books. So we took shingles, cut them down to the size of the book, got some cotton and then pretty cloth, and covered those shingles and then laced them from the back, so that the books were beautiful. And those were the books she took me to see. She said, “I want you to read every book in this library.” And she did, and never stopped reading to her dying day.