The Gentleman’s Private Library, Part I

“I Cannot Live In A World Without Books” – Jefferson

I suspect that the question now is… can anyone live in a world without computers? Has the ascent of the keyboard created the demise of the physical book? Is extinction in the cards? Well, yes and no. Perhaps, for the average paperback with little provenance, this may be the case. But, not so for the rare book. In fact, I predict quite the opposite. As the book art form grows increasingly rarer, the value of rare books will appreciate.

The gentleman’s private library has always been a haven where one gleans a sense of intellectual spirituality at home. Surrounded by a wealth of knowledge, the collector sees his library as a sanctuary from the labors and toils of the day, a place where he finds serenity from the outside world – a halcyon visit to another time and place. As the collector Jack Holmes expresses,

What I find the most satisfying about being a book collector is the responsibility I am taking on by being the temporary custodian of a particular literary treasure. There are only so many copies of Johnson’s Dictionary out there, or Moby Dick, or Oliver Twist in the parts, and to own one of them is to not only to hold history in your hand (which is exciting in and of itself) but it is also to preserve that history for the future. To play a role in making sure that rare books and first editions survive is something I take seriously.

Heather O’Donnell, proprietor of Honey and Wax Books, believes that “In a curious twist as ownership of the printed books becomes a choice, rather than the default option, people who’ve never thought of themselves as ‘book collectors’ increasing catch themselves in an act that can only be described as collecting books.”

Rare books are not only investments, they are treasures, indeed. Their provenance tells a great story, lending both intrigue and intellectual value to the tome. Who owned it, when it was printed, who printed it, where was it printed, whose binding adorns it, and whose notes annotate it – all these and more are some of the seminal questions to be asked about a rare book. Heather adroitly sums it up: “As artifacts, books communicate more than words on their pages: in type and design, materials and construction, they remind us that ours is not the only historical moment. They satisfy our desire to own and handle well-made objects, to live among them, to give each other something lasting, rather than simply clicking “share.”

“Your Library Is Your Paradise” -Erasmus

There are several important characteristics to be considered in designing a rare book library. As a designer, the most prominent categories are the room’s lighting, air quality, cabinetry (shelving), finishes, and overall architectural plan. As the book becomes a more arcane form, these specific conditions will define and determine the longevity of the collection. If there is one characteristic to which rare books respond, it is to the stability, consistency, and beauty of it’s environment.

Lighting: The sun is a friend to sunbathers, but an enemy to books. Natural light can lead to a book’s disintegration. Many libraries, both public and personal, have now become spaces with few windows, limiting permeation by the sun. For best results, light precautions need to begin with a UV film over each window, protected by additional layers of draperies. These decorative panels, as noted drapery fabricator Robin Feuer suggests, “need to be lined and interlined for the best protection. For added protection, a solar shade with maximum opacity should be added.” In addition, strips are oftentimes placed on the sides of the windows, insuring the least light invasion. Insofar as interior lighting is concerned, Richard Renfro of Renfro Design suggests placing LED light strips on the underside of the ledge above each shelf. Compared to other types of lighting, LED’s are not as hot and emit a nice, consistent stream of light upon the books below. Free of UV rays and infrared frequencies, they can be left on for considerable periods of time. Phantom Lighting who makes such concealed linear strip lighting notes ” that the lighting strip creates a safe, low-voltage light appropriate for lighting books continuously.” Sandra Liotus, Liotus Lighting Design, engineers and builds glass fiber optic lighting which removes all infra-red and ultra violet lighting frequencies, allowing rare books to be lit without worry of fading, wet or dry rot, or reduced relative humidity.”

Designing a Rare Book Library is a highly specialized endeavor. Do you have a collection for which you would like a library designed? A unique design ability, we create and problem solve complicated and specialized spaces for your rare book library needs. We design the room, shelving, and furniture within so that the room becomes a harmonious environment in which to read.

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