Contrary to the typical academic, I do not like working in libraries. I love books, but prefer to surround myself with them in my office or on my sofa, rather than shut myself away in a room with them. On a recent trip to Yale, however, I was really struck by the fantastic architecture of the two libraries there, and wondered – as I sat in a delightful bookshop café (another of my preferred book-related surroundings) – whether such facilities would tempt me to change my working patterns.
The main Yale library – the Sterling Memorial Library – was designed by architect James Gamble Rogers and opened in 1931. The story, as recounted by an undergraduate student leading my campus tour, is that he wanted very much to build a church – every architect’s dream. However, the University weren’t interested in a church, though they did want a library…
So the result was a fabulous building, complete with empty niches on the walls (because obviously the building has been there long enough for invading iconoclasts to remove the saintly statues!), an altar screen to “Lady Yale”, and stained glass windows, albeit depicting scenes from the history of New Haven. A real temple to learning.
However, just around the corner is another library, this time a modernist treat from 1963 – the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, recently reopened after a renovation. The outside is striking enough, but it is the inside that really makes you gasp. A central glass-bounded column contains the rare books and manuscripts held by Yale, while light filters gently through the marble walls. Glorious! I could have stayed in there for hours!