Today I visited Marsh’s Library, the oldest public library in Dublin dating to 1701, located adjacent to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The library has been in the news recently with its new exhibition entitled Exquisite and Rare: Bookbindings from the Library of Benjamin Guinness 3rd Earl of Iveagh (see here for more details http://www.marshlibrary.ie/rare-exquisite-exhibition-launch-photographs/).
Rare? Certainly. Exquisite? Definitely.
As well as being able to look at these beautifully hand-tooled ornate book covers, visitors can view the library’s actual collection as it sits in original position on the shelves. Thousands and thousands of books still line the shelves, categorized by subject, with the largest books on the bottom and the smaller ones on top. The ‘cages’ at the end of the library are particularly interesting, as in the past readers were locked into them, so they could not steal any of the precious pages!
Engagement with the visitor includes an artist’s corner area where visitors can create their own mock book cover drawing inspiration from the display, using coloured paper and gold pen. There is also a pen and ink desk where visitors can try their hand at calligraphy. As part of the Exquisite and Rare display, an audiovisual display shows how these books would have been created.
On both occasions I visited the library the staff were friendly and engaging, answering questions and providing useful information about the past and present of the institution. They are particularly welcoming to children, as is indicated on their website http://www.marshlibrary.ie/.. Entrance fees are minimal and there is a donations box to help with conservation of the books. The library is a wonderful place that visitors to Dublin should definitely pencil into their itinerary!