In This World, but Not of This World? The Sacred Space of the Library, the Garden, and the Church

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In my chapter ‘Contemplation, Conservation, and Community: Challenges of the Small Art Library Space,’ in "The Handbook of Art and Design Librarianship" (London: Facet, 2010), I briefly discussed the similarities between libraries, gardens, and religious buildings as locations that are more than mundane spaces. These different spaces, in fact, may have features in common, such as their entrances, designed to transport the person into an environment removed from worldly bustle. If the entrance into the original Glasgow School of Art Library (designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh) is compared to that of the Cathedral of Notre Dame, with its recessed doors, it is clear that both are clearly spaces to be entered into gradually. In this paper, I will develop these observations through a comparative study of historic and literary representations of the library, the religious building and the garden, looking at their shared conceptions and functions as peaceful havens and sources of inspiration and awe; compare the hortus conclusus as in the medieval text "Roman de la Rose" and the forest grown at the heart of the Bibliothèque Nationale Française. I intend to emphasise the function of the entrances of, and the ease of access to, these spaces, but will also consider the general organisation of the spaces as a whole. The conclusions reached through this comparative study will be used to demonstrate how present and future librarians can draw upon history to ensure that libraries remain a space simultaneously sacred and social, welcoming to all.


Keywords: Library Entrances, Sacred Space, Gardens, Churches, Religious Buildings, Library Space, Building Design, Landscape Design
Stream: Libraries
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
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Kathleen M. O'Neill

Assistant Librarian, Library, Sotheby's Institute of Art
London, Greater London, UK

I am the Assistant Librarian at Sotheby’s Institute of Art. My background is in medieval languages and literature, and the medieval book as object, and I continue to research and read in this area outside work. I have an MSc in Information and Library Studies, and an MPhil in Medieval and Renaissance Studies, and have been working in art libraries and with rare books collections for the last six years. I have always had an interest in nineteenth-century art, with an emphasis on the Pre-Raphaelites, and have combined this interest with my medieval expertise for a book chapter in Sotheby's Institute of Art's forthcoming publication 'The Authentic Art Work', discussing the artists' access to and use of medieval sources. I have recently written a chapter, ‘Contemplation, Conservation and Community: Challenges of the Small Art Library Space’, in "The Handbook of Art and Design Librarianship" (Facet, 2010). I also drew on both my academic knowledge and my hobby of fencing to write a review of Angus Patterson’s book "Fashion and Armour in Renaissance Europe: Proud Looks and Brave Attire" for the Medieval Dress and Textiles Society May 2010 newsletter.

Ref: B11P0039