Thursday, 7 February 2013

The Library at Night

"Siempre imaginé que el Paraíso sería algún tipo de biblioteca." 
"I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library."  
Jorge Luis Borges (writer and essayist. He was also Directory of the National Library of Argentina for eighteen years even though, by then, he had lost his sight.)

Alberto Manguel's 2008 book, The Library at Night is a real treat for people who enjoy books about books. In fifteen chapters, with titles such as, 'The Library as Myth', 'The Library as Power', 'The Library as Identity', Manguel explores libraries, taking in: history, memoir, politics, categorisation and classification, and imagination.

Although not a history book, as such, The Library at Night, features many fascinating facts about the history of specific libraries, The Library of Alexandria, The Warburg Library, and the creation of the British Library, for example.

I particularly enjoyed reading about the history of classification, including, of course, Melvil Dewey and his decimals, alphabetisation, and early classification methods from third century China. In the Imperial Library, books were classified under four broad categories: canonical or classical texts, works of history, philosophical works and miscellaneous items. Books in each category were bound in a specific colour: green for classics, red for history, blue for philosophy and grey for miscellaneous. I like the idea of ordering books by subject area but also bestowing an aesthetic harmony on the library through blocks of one specific colour (As a child, I spent many an enjoyable hour organising my books by physical properties (all paperbacks with white spines in one group, all hardbacks together, all the picture books together etc.).

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