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LIBRARY ASSOCIATION: PROCEEDINGS AND
Monthly Meeting, 13th March, 1899.
The Fifth Meeting of the Session was held at 20 Hanover Square, Mr. Alderman Harry Rawson (Past President) presiding.
The following were elected to membership of the Association :Mr. Thomas Aldred, Librarian, St. George-the-Martyr Public Library,
Borough Road, S.E. Mr. Ernest Baker, M.A., Librarian, Midland Railway Institute, Derby. Carmarthen Literary and Scientific Institution. Llanelly Public Library. Mr. William James Marshall, Librarian, National Union of Conserva
tive and Constitutional Associations, Westminster. Oxford Public Library. Warrington Municipal Museum.
Mr. J. M. Brydon, F.R.I.B.A., read a paper on “ Public LIBRARY Architecture," being the substance of his remarks in a paper read at the February meeting of the Royal Institution of British Architects, which, at the invitation of the Council, he had consented to redeliver to the members of the Library Association. The paper was illustrated by plans and photographic views of many of the English and American libraries, notable among these being the great buildings of the Library of Congress at Washington, the Columbia University Library, and the Public Libraries of Boston and New York.
Mr. Brydon referred at the outset to Mr. F. J. Burgoyne's book on “ Library Construction” which had become a text-book on all that pertained to the formation of a well-regulated library. Bearing that in mind, he proposed to confine himself more to the buildings from an architectural point of view, their types of plan, and the artistic expression of their purpose, leaving to the more competent hands of librarians themselves the important matters of the general arrangement of the books, and the fittings and furniture most suitable for the work of a public library in the most popular sense of the term. He did not propose to enter into a history of the modern library as such, or trace its genesis down from such notable examples as the Laurentian Library at Florence, the Libraries of St. Mark's at Venice, of the Vatican at Rome, of the Radcliffe at Oxford, of Trinity College at Cambridge, or the other Trinity College in Dublin-all erected by great masters of the architectural craft; or, again, to engage in a disquisition on the educational advantages of public libraries and the impetus given to their establishment by the passing of the Public Libraries Acts. They were all pretty well acquainted with the one, and pretty well agreed upon the other. In spite of such poor benighted parishes as St. Marylebone, St. Pancras, and Islington in the greatest and most enlightened city in the world, libraries continued to increase and multiply throughout Great Britain and America at a rate that must gladden the heart of every one interested in the advancement of general knowledge. His object was to show, with as full illustrations as possible, something of what had been recently done in library build. ing, so that one may learn what to follow in the future.
A suitable site was of primary importance. It should be central and prominent, yet quiet, ample in area to allow for future extension, have a good light all round, and be dry.
As regards the building, the free and open system of the ordinary popular library—i.e., reference and loan combined with reading-rooms - rendered proper supervision essential, and as libraries were usually understaffed, the arrangements of the plan must be concentrated so as to enable the officials to supervise at a glance all the rooms to which the public have access. An ideal plan was to place all the public rooms on one floor. Where this could not be done, the rooms to which most frequent and rapid access was required should be placed on the ground floor, and those less frequented on an upper floor. The administrative portion of the library, such as the book stores, the librarian's office and the workrooms for his staff, must be conveniently placed for the service of the department to which they are more particularly attached. The public rooms should be lofty, well lighted and thoroughly ventilated.
The planning of a public library was not, however, a complicated problem. The requirements were comparatively few and simple, and lent themselves to a stately and architectural system of design from which some striking effects almost necessarily followed. It must be endowed with a fitting dignity both in plan and elevation. The reading. rooms being large gave ample scope for the designer's knowledge of proportion. They should possess that quiet dignity of effect which can only be obtained by good proportion and restraint in design. Fussy little bay windows and other nooks and corners were uncalled for and out of place.
Respecting the lending department, the author considered that an architectural opportunity had been missed in many recent English libraries. Instead of being simply a book store, with a space cut off for the public, the latter might be treated as a hall or lobby by itself, as in some of the American libraries, notably at Boston. There the deliveryroom was 64 feet long by 33 feet wide and 20 feet high, and was decorated in the most sumptuous manner. Adjoining it was the stack-room, to all parts of which application slips were sent through pneumatic tubes. The books came back to the alcove by means of a little electric railway with low wire basket carriages, running at the rate of 500 feet per minute. The delivery-room at the Edinburgh Public Library was modelled on the telling-room of a Scotch bank. The central space was devoted to the public, with counters round three sides and alcoves behind them, for the storage of books. This arrangement gave scope for, and was treated with considerable architectural effect, a handsome hall being the result. The public library of the future would be the centre of culture and enlightenment of the district in which it was placed, and could wield an influence which must ever become wider and stronger. The building should be of such a character as to assist this influence. The suburban villa type, with its useless turrets and bay windows, should be altogether discarded - in short, the building should be endowed with that distinction of style and nobility of purpose which would render it an enjoyment and inspiration to all who hope for the growth of a living interest in architecture as a fine art. had described, it was curious to note how much less, comparatively speaking, they were used by the citizens than was the case in our own country. A striking peculiarity in the arrangement of American libraries was that one very seldom found in them any distinct location of books for reference and lending purposes, all the volumes being placed in juxtaposition on the shelves, which perhaps accounted for the long delay which readers experienced in obtaining the books they wanted.
Having briefly referred to the arrangement of rooms in libraries recently erected in the United Kingdom, plans of all of which were shown, the author turned to the great American libraries, describing in more or less detail the buildings, plan and more notable features of the Congressional Library at Washington, of which an interesting historical sketch was given, the Public Library at Boston, the Columbia L'niversity Library, New York, and the public library about to be erected in New York.
In the Washington Library the American Government had commissioned American sculptors and painters-some fifty in all-to decorate broadly and thoroughly one of its great national monuments. The result was the most interesting record possible of the scope and capabilities of American art; not only sumptuousness of design, but richness of materials had been pressed into the service--marble, bronze, mosaic, fresco and choice woods all bear their part. Staircase hall and rotunda, or reading-room, were a blaze of rich marbles and decoration. In the rotunda the columns and pilasters of the piers carrying the dome were of red Numidian marble resting on pedestals of dark purple Tennesse marble, their capitals being gilded. The screens between the piers were of yellow marble, and the portrait statues which surmount the balustrade were of bronze. The building was 468 feet long from north to south, 340 feet deep from east to west, by 72 feet high. The rotunda was 100 feet diameter, 125 feet high to the top of the dome, and 160 feet to the domed ceiling of the lantern. The architects were first Mr. Smithmeyer, then General Casey, Mr. Bernard Green and Mr. Pelz. The building cost £1,272,000 sterling.
The great architectural features of the Boston Library were the staircase hall and the Bates Hall-the former notable for its mural paintings by M. Puvis de Chavannes, illustrating philosophy, astronomy, history, chemistry, physics, pastoral, dramatic and epic poetry. Bates Hall was the reference reading-room, and was 218 feet by 42 feet, and 50 feet high to the crown of its arched ceiling. It had accommodation for 264 readers at 33 tables. Sargent Hall, named after the eminent painter, was 84 feet long, 23 feet wide and 26 feet high. The ceiling was vaulted, and the hall is lighted from the roof. The decorative painting would be entirely by Mr. Sargent. The scheme, representing the triumph of religion, illustrated certain stages of Jewish and Christian history. Some of the work was shown at the Royal Academy in 1894. The interior court, another charming feature, was surrounded on three sides by an open arcade of white marble, similar in design to that of the Cancellaria Palace in Rome. In its centre was a marble fountain, set about with grass plots; along the walls under the arcade were low oak benches, so that on warm days the court might be used as an open-air reading-room. The building was a careful study of modern Renaissance, thoughtfully and lovingly carried out, reflecting the greatest credit on its architect, Mr. McKim, and the public spirit that called it into being. Many facts and figures in connection with this library and the branch libraries at Boston were given by the author.
The third library called attention to, that of the University of Columbia, New York, was built and presented to the university by Mr. Seth Low, president of the university, as a memorial to his father. Construction and equipment had cost nearly £240,000. In plan it was like a Greek cross, with the great reading-room at the intersection of
Mr. C. T. Davis seconded the vote of thanks and said that in Great Britain with limited incomes the library authorities had to content themselves with buildings of a more modest type than in America. Unsuitable and ill-shaped sites often proved an insuperable difficulty to the architect, and compelled the construction of a library which proved most inconvenient, both for the readers and for the staff who had to minister to their wants.
He laid stress upon the necessity of giving careful attention to the difficult problem of good ventilation.
Mr. R. A. PEDDIE thought the decoration of libraries was often overdone, the cost of the same necessarily reducing the number of books which would otherwise be provided. He instanced the British Museum as an example to be followed, inasmuch as the decoration therein was simple and yet effective.
Mr. J: Ả. Quinn a propos of the chairman's reference to the lack of appreciation of ladies' reading-rooms, observed that it might interest those present to know that Mr. Brydon was now engaged in adapting the ladies' room at the Chelsea Library into a small art gallery, which was likely to be a more popular department.
Mr. H. R. Tedder thought it was a matter for congratulation that Mr. Brydon's presence with them that evening evidenced the fact that architects and librarians were at last in co-operation. He had recently had something to do with the extension of the London Library, where the architect was not only willing to act in concert with, but actually courted the opinion and advice of the librarian.
Mr. J. Y. W. MacAlister said he had always understood that the Boston and other libraries in the United States were used much more largely for reference purposes as distinct from book-borrowing, and this he thought only brought out the more clearly their great educational importance.
He took exception to the idea that decoration in a library should be quite subordinate, for he considered that in addition to providing for the people's reading there was no better field for the exercise of the arts of the painter and sculptor than these great national build. ings.
Mr. Brydon in acknowledging the vote of thanks which was cordially passed, alluded to the several practical points raised in the discussion, and said it must not be overlooked that the magnificent library buildings in America owed their existence largely to private munificence where they had not been erected by Government at great cost, and he trusted that ere long similar aid and encouragement might be given to library architecture in the older country. Any architect in designing and planning a library would be short-sighted in the extreme if he neg. lected to avail himself of the expert knowledge of the librarian, who necessarily had the best idea of what was required in the interior arrangements.