Ever since I was a child I have had a special place in my heart for literature. I expected to see a lot of castles and cathedrals (obviously) on this trip, but being fortunate enough to see libraries as well has been an amazing experience. I think the first “old time” type of library I remember from my childhood was the library from Beauty and the Beast, corny I know. Belle was my favorite, because she was so smart and inquisitive, she always wanted to know more. There is something so thrilling and wonderful about seeing all of these books and thinking about the time and energy people were putting into the texts that we take for granted everyday. The first library we saw was the Leighton Library across from Dunblane Cathedral in Scotland. Going into this library was magical, but heartbreaking at the same time, as we only had about two minutes to look around before our bus left. The Leighton Library was named after Robert Leighton, who originally owned most of the books, and donated them to the library in 1400. The attendant said that the library has over 4,500 volumes in over 89 languages, which just blew my mind for this tiny space. This library looks like a small house from the outside that is about the size of a dorm room back on campus. The coolest book I saw from my quick glance around was Two Breeches Bibles, which was an original signed by Queen Victoria.
The next library we saw was at Salisbury Cathedral. This library was built in 1445 to house the cathedral’s manuscripts. The library also dates back to the 11th century for the Bishop to use as a center for learning. The library in present day holds just over 8,000 books on a variety of topics falling under manuscripts, printed books pre 1900 and modern books, so post 1900. I think that is was my favorite library that we’ve visited because of how much history was in not only the library itself but in the books. I could spend weeks just paging through the books and admiring them before beginning to read them.
Today we went to the Wells Cathedral Library, and again, I was amazed. Like the other libraries, Wells is a chained library, meaning that most of the books are attached to chains and there is a light and a small reading station for people (who are fortunate enough) to read the books, as the books are on the shelves spine in, instead of out. There were about 150 books in the library at the time of the Reformation in the 1530’s, but a lot of these books were lost. In the present day there are over 4,000 volumes in the chained library that are all gifts from bishops and cannons. The subjects vary from medicine, science, languages, history, travel and poetry. And obviously, religious texts. My only complaint, again, is that I was not able to go into the main part of the library and really investigate the books further.