Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Library Adventures!

No, please don't run away. I did honestly have some library-based adventures. This is the Belgian National Library - or the Koninklijke Biblioteek van Belgiƫ, if you're the Dutchman - and is where I'm spending a lot of my time at the moment:

They have a courtyard garden (top right) and a terrace (bottom left), overlooking the square (bottom right). The library is set on the Kunstberg, the 'Art Mountain', upon which many of the major museums sit, next to the Royal Palace. It is an interesting building. Modern. Open-plan reading rooms. So different from the Bodleian and my beloved Duke Humfrey's Library. The lockers are all named after famous Belgian writers and such.* I can't get over the fact that they don't let you (!!!) choose your seat (!!!) - you hand in your library card to the woman at the reading room entrance and she hands you a number, seemingly at random. This is now where you must sit. As a creature of habit (always always 248 in the BL, H11 in DH) I find this strange. What if you like more or less light, to sit near the window or away from the doors? Bah. Anyways. This is not the adventure. Adventure number one is the ALLOTMENT ON THE LIBRARY ROOF.

(* Apparently Poirot and Tintin don't count. I deliberately started my attempt at a nice arty representation of this at Georges Simenon, as one of the few I knew. That either makes me very uncultured or these Belgians not that famous. Probably the first. Me and Maurice Gilliams are becoming very well acquainted.)


There is an allotment on the roof of the library. An actual allotment. With a biodome and vegetables you can buy. It is amazing. I basically slunk round, took these photos, and left, but I sort of regret it. There were three distinctly hippy types weeding and talking to people, and I did want to know more. I saw tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, chillies, beans, and various herbs, and the signs indicated others would grow in season.

And then on my way back down, I had adventure number two...

The Librarium

I have no idea whether I should have just wandered in, or whether I should have been allowed to take photos, but I am glad that I did. The Librarium is a kind of museum of the book. The sculpture at the entrance is made up of pieces of paper with words such as 'library', 'book', and 'reading' written in many different languages. It's a striking piece. I've seen it out of the corner of my eye when on the way to the reading room, but today for some reason it was more brightly lit (although I was the only one in there).

Exhibits track the history of books and manuscripts, from stone tablets, scrolls, and early printing, through to innovations and curiosities such as miniatures and pop-up books. What I liked most about it (apart from the eerie quiet) was the way technology had been integrated.

Touchscreens abounded: display case information; a booth where they show a different illuminated manuscript every month, with 'turnable' pages; ipad-esque video screens for choosing your language and subject...

Every day I walk from our apartment to the library, set out my books, and make notes hoping to cover all the possible things I could be asked in my viva. I am attempting to allay the panic with a vast pile of books and highlights and notations and quotes. I'm not sure it's working. But today, today felt good. An allotment on the roof and a wunderkammer in the basement. Belgium, you continue to surprise me.

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