Saturday, March 22, 2014

Beinecke Rare Books & Manuscript Library - Yale Univeristy

Years ago I had a date with a Yalie and he brought me into this magnificent library. Even though I had no thoughts of being a librarian back then, I remember being blown away by the translucent marble panels surrounding a glass cube of books. I have seen this library in lists of most amazing libraries, and I could say I had been there. 

I had the opportunity to visit it again during the Baltic and Scandinavian Studies Conference, though I got no closer to examining the many rare wonders held within it. The conference reception was held at Beinecke and it was fun to mingle with the conference attendees in this hallowed space with a couple of Gutenberg Bibles right there, and a couple of the huge Audubon books (I remember those at Cornell too).

The ground level is surrounded by normal windows letting in natural light, and you can see the first rare book shelves behind glass behind the security desk. Then as you walk up the stairs, you realize that this was just the bottom floor of a huge glass cube stretching up another five stories with the treasures of Yale on display. The only thing I have seen like this was at the British Library. I walked around feasting my eyes on centuries old bindings. Since I am no rare book expert, I had no idea what I was really looking at, but just as in the Swedish Royal Library, I felt in awe.

There is open space between the cube with the collection and the outer walls,
which are made of 1.25 inch thick grey-veined marble panels from Vermont. (See the Beinecke website) They let in some light, but not enough to damage the books. I was told that the best time to see the effect is when the panels are wet and the sun shines on them, but I thought the effect was impressive enough. Our reception was held in this glorious space surrounding the stacks.

I was busy with the conference, so did not have much time to explore the library, but I did go back one day to take more pictures and look at the exhibit. The exhibit was just called "Blue" and had on display a wide variety of items around the building including: blueprints, swatches of the color blue in design drawings, blue covered books, books that included "blue" in the title, Blue books (for gentlemen looking for certain types of entertainment), music albums with "blue" including one of my old favorites, Joni Mitchell's Blue, books, correspondence, posters and other items about blues singers and musicians, and art work from a few artists, whose connection with "blue" I did not explore.

I had to use the facilities and was allowed to go down to the lower level, which was reserved for researchers. Expanses of work tables were available behind glass walls. There was another security guard down there along with the reference staff. I have no idea what it entails to guard such a treasure.

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