Book Towns: Where Reading is the Reason to Live
Some small towns in the rural reaches that lost their former industries have reimagined themselves as "book towns." By filling empty storefronts with used and antiquarian bookshops, and hosting literary festivals, the goal is to attract new visitors in the form of bibliophiles.
The book towns are officially united through the International Organisation of Book Towns. The movement started in 1961 with Richard Booth in Hay-on-Wye in Wales, and now includes towns across Europe and in Malaysia, Korea, and Australia. However, the drive for a sustainable tourism development program in these rural areas has hit some hurdles in recent years with the consolidation of the used book trade online and rise of the e-book. As Adrian Turpin, director of the literary festival in Wigtown, Scotland’s book town, told the BBC in 2012:
"There was a time when second-hand book sellers in book towns were first of all selling books and secondly selling the experience of browsing. Now it is almost the other way around."
Despite these recent changes in the literary landscape, the book towns thrive on.
Today I visited the medieval library at Merton College, Oxford as a guest of the Fellow Librarian. It is the UK’s oldest library that was designed to be used by scholars, and it has been functioning as such since its construction in the 1370s. You enter the library at the ground level through a massive door. Going up the stairs you reach the upper floor, where the books are stored. It is sensational to walk among the rows of book cases in the half-lit room. Their shelves are filled with hundreds of early-modern books (many still fitted in their original bindings), which are patiently waiting until someone will touch them again. Heavy benches hoovering over wooden floors are a reminder that this room was once filled with scholars leaning over their books, trying to catch the last light of the day. In the middle of the library a big 13th-century book chest is found, next to a small collection of shiny 14th-century astrolabes. What a heavenly place.
Pics (my own): library, book cases, consultation bench, book chest (13th century), stained-glass window (medieval), and entrance. More information about the library on Merton College’s website (here) and also here; more on Merton College, which dates from the 13th-century, here.
Feast your eyes on the elegant grandeur of the Real Gabinete Português de Leitura (known in English as the Royal Portuguese Reading Room or the Royal Cabinet), a 19th-century library in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Constructed from 1880 to 1887 under the direction of architect Rafael da Silva e Castro, the magnificent library has the distinction of holding the largest and most valuable collection of Portuguese works outside of Portugal, with over 350,000 volumes filling its countless bookshelves.