The Perfect Library (1)

Keen readers are not always keen library-goers. Many readers find libraries distasteful, even disturbing. They hate the idea of picking up, let alone reading a book which has been pawed by countless other readers. They hate the very atmosphere of libraries. To confront fellow readers: what exquisite pain this gives them! Or, in a public library, to find oneself confronted by the tastes of the masses; by the shelves and shelves of cheap crime novels, quirky romances and short novels with needlessly long titles (‘The Daughter Who Threw Her Bathrobe into the Canal’, ‘The Wonderful Story of The Runaway Devonshire Threshing Machine’, ‘The Continuing Adventures of Chainsaw Jim’ etc). Many readers would rather enter a chamber of torture than a public library.

Johannes Speyer’s hatred of libraries took a slightly different course. He resented their ‘tiresome allegiance to staid organisational methods’ – which is to say he disliked the way they ordered their books alphabetically by genre. The perfect library, in Speyer’s opinion, would be open to different ways of ordering books. For a start, the books would be taken off shelves. They would not be grouped by genre, and they certainly wouldn’t follow ‘that straitjacket we call the alphabet’. The perfect library would be a large warehouse where the visitor did not find the book he/she wanted, but stumbled upon them instead. It would be something of an eccentric experience.

More on this shortly…


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