At the very beginning of our tour of St. Paul’s Cathedral Library, before we had even ascended the stairs up to the triforium level that houses the library itself, our tour guide, librarian Joe Wisdom, pointed out a book and heart carved above the west cathedral entrance. The book is understood to be a Bible, and this carving means to say that unless the message of the Bible is delivered with love, it will not get through to those who are meant to understand it. He suggested that we as librarians could take this message to heart for our professional lives too. It was very fitting that in this beautiful place, of so much spiritual and religious significance, we had a visit that delved into the philosophy of our profession.
The St. Paul’s Cathedral Library houses items relating to the Cathedral. The collection is open to anyone with a “legitimate” query, which might be something academic in nature, or it might be related to family history. As librarian of this iconic institution, Mr. Wisdom was clearly passionate and knowledgeable about the building as a whole and its history. We were in the library for only one small part of the tour, and otherwise explore the triforium level and its many treasures.
What I found to be particularly valuable to learn about, especially since I have had quite limited experience with it in my education or work experience thus far, were the realities of preservation for valuable and very old books, such as those in this collection. When entering the library, one immediately notices that lovely old book smell. Mr. Wisdom explained that that smell is actually decaying leather. He emphasized the need to avoid plants and food in a space with old books, or anything else that might invite bugs into the space. He explains that they take very regular measurements of conditions of the library room, testing the effect of different things on the room. One thing they have found is that most dust appears near entryways, rather than on books themselves, and is produced by people leaving and entering the room from these spots.
At the end of our tour, Mr. Wisdom encouraged us to keep in mind what it really means to be a librarian throughout our professional lives. In particular, we were encouraged not to over-classify our collections (keeping in mind that even with the best of intentions this is more likely to benefit the staff in the library than the users), and to go about our work in a kind way: an idea that was embodied by the carving we saw as we started this tour.