Friday, November 27, 2015

Tidy book piles versus a chaotic mess

Whereas in the Romanesque images, reflecting the monastic culture of  slow ruminative reading, a glimpse of a few volumes in a chest or cupboard was sufficient to evoke appropriate engagement, in later centuries, with changing patterns of book use, the volumes were shown to be available on shelves or desks. Though chests and storerooms were still current, it was the "open-shelf ready-reference" aspect of the facilities that was generally stressed. We must leave for another occasion consideration of the thorny issue of whether neatly stacked closed books, or a chaos of open ones better conveyed the idea of knowledge—if the former might evoke systematic study and orderly learning, the latter could suggest an inspired frenzy of literary labor.
Richard Gameson, "The Image of the Medieval Library," in Alice Crawford, ed., The Meaning of the Library (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 2015), p. 54

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