The Mystique of the Library

“A poet lives in every hardworking person; he reveals himself when writing, reading, speaking or listening.”

Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach

The Mystique of the Library

A library’s mystique is without doubt based upon the collective knowledge accumulated in the books that it holds. In the early days of printing, books were an extremely valuable commodity; in the late Middle Ages only very wealthy people and institutions such as churches and universities were able to own books and run libraries. The library system of a nation is the aggregation of all of that country’s libraries. As a rule some are accessible to the general public; in Germany this figure is around 9,000 individual libraries. Nowadays library contents are digitised in order to preclude the loss through decay of the basic organic material of ancient books. Ancient libraries existed in the cultures of the Egyptians and later the Greeks and Romans. Today, handwritten papyrus rolls and books from antiquity have immeasurable value.

The collective knowledge repositories and cultural witnesses of civilisations are extremely valuable to contemporary scholars. Today, the incomparable aura and visual appearance of venerable libraries also serves, for example, as a backdrop to film productions. Alongside the world-famous Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan and the Bodleian Library in Oxford dating from the 17th century, more and more libraries have been opened to the public. Germany’s very first public library was the Vaterländische Bürgerbibliothek (national civic library) in Grossenhain, in 1828. Apart from the major university libraries of the world, state and national book collections (for example the Library of Congress in the USA or the Russian State Library) are among the most important representatives of their kind. The Dag Hammarskjöld Library in the UN in New York and the Saltykov-Shchedrin Library in St Petersburg, as well as the Vatican Library of the Catholic Church, occupy a special position in this regard.

Other libraries that are worth a visit for book-lovers are the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris, and the Berlin State Library of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation. However, depending on your area of interest, many other libraries in different destinations near and far can provide a wide range of impressions and tremendous enjoyment. You can also visit the libraries of your choice on the Internet too and be inspired by the information available on the World Wide Web. Yet nothing will provide more memorable moments than a visit to an actual book collection. It may be possible to digitise the content, but not the atmosphere.