Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Site 15: Trinity University Old Library

July 29, 2008

The Trinity Library is the easiest library to find ever (and this declaration coming from one whose default mode is "Hopelessly Lost"), situated as it is within the city centre of Dublin. Arriving directly outside (thank you number 10 bus route), I am excited to not only be at the right place at the right time, at Trinity College Dublin, one of the foremost academic centers in the world -- but also to have all of my travel gear with me at once, strapped to my back. As my flight to London leaves later that afternoon, I have no choice but to make like a turtle. It's entirely not awesome, and perhaps more so for my public transportation neighbors.

Despite my invasion of others' personal space via backpack(s), I am thinking about my day with a bright outlook. It's beautiful outside, possibly the sunniest day Ireland has ever known; and the Irish, already a happy bunch, emit rainbows and butterflies and break into song when the rain stops. (The attitude here is like the opposite of the Pacific Northwest, which while similar in wet dreariness, is downright cheerful. I'm sure the Guinness helps, in any case.)

As Trinity is a tourist haven, there are a good many signs pointing me to the rather expensive tour. But it's my last day, and I promised the customs inspector that I would spend all of my Euros in Ireland, so I have my word to keep and tours to attend. While I wait for the tour to commence, the guide does compliment my bag (well, one of them hanging around my person), which makes me feel better about my money being well spent -- flattery gets you everywhere, is what I generally say. The fact that the preferred bag is from the British Library does make me doubt his sincerity, however.

Anyway, I am meandering (as I do) from my purpose of this visit. Just what is so great about Trinity's library? Built in 1712, the library was part of the college's larger "new age" expansion -- so to speak (i.e. a popular joke in Ireland, or just what they tell to American tourists is this: 100 years is a long time for the U.S., and 100 miles is a far distance in Ireland; but I think for Hawaii there has to be an exception). Trinity College was the institution for Protestant ascendancy, and as such reaped the benefits: funding for buildings and resources for education. My favorite quote from Trinity's website has to be this dig at their rival neighbor: "Unlike the English universities Trinity took its duties seriously." Fighting words, indeed! But well-backed, considering the prominent authors that came out of the college: Swift, Beckett, Wilde, Stoker, et al. Students and fellows were expected to use the facilities for more than what privilege entitled them? Color me amazed.

I never really had a sense before having set foot on Irish soil, how small a place Ireland really is, and it's pretty inspiring to see what -- and who -- emerged. It's an impressive club, Trinity's literary alumni.

The Old Library of today is the largest library in Ireland, and a big fixture in Europe. Its holdings stand four centuries in the making: comprised of books, manuscripts, maps, and artifacts. The book stock alone totals over four million items, the big ticket attraction being the Book of Kells.

Which brings me to my present situation: hunchbacked and not as sun-worshipping as an hour previous found me. The line to the Old Library is mind-bogglingly long. A part of me, I admit, is ecstatic that people are out the door waiting to gain entry into a library, like it's cool. (Which libraries are, of course, though how often underappreciated!) But my admiration is in theory, not in practice where I have to queue up.

Once in, it's chaos, but an ordered chaos -- libraries must have some semblance thereof. The displays housing the Book of Kells are alternating, so as to limit the amount of light damage the papers are exposed to. After taking a History of Libraries course, and consequently doing a presentation on illuminated manuscripts, my interest in the exhibit was high. What actually trumped the Book of Kells soundly, however, was the Long Room. Glass cases run the center of a well, long room, lined with bookshelves and things of interest: winding iron staircases, globes, fabulously decrepit books. For any new Star Wars fans out there (I'm an old trilogy purist, I'm afraid), the pseudo-Obi-Won library scene is based on the Long Room. It's a distant, like other galaxy distant second, but you can't recreate the source material, now can you?

Trinity College Library Dublin homepage

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