It’s officially mid-term break in UCD. What that means academically is that there are no classes for the next two weeks. What it means for MLIS students is another question entirely. Catching up with backlogs of work seems to be a common theme, as is working on individual and group assignments.
For some of us however today was a nice respite from it all. A field trip to Marsh’s Library (the first public library in Ireland – opened in 1701) was on the cards. When the idea was first raised there were plenty of takers for the proposal. After all, when authors such as Bram Stoker and James Joyce have been visitors there, that alone is reason enough to visit. Add to that the gorgeous old books in the collection, its location next to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the fact that we were going to be given a special “library students” tour, well what more could you want?
Unfortunately the impending due date for an assignment seemed to dampen the enthusiasm of some classmates, while others were brought low by a variety of illnesses (no doubt triggered by the insane weather fluctuations we’ve been having over the last few weeks). Undaunted, those of us who did go had a fantastic treat.
On arrival, Sue took us around and told us all about the history of the library since its opening in 1701. Founded by Archbishop Narcissus March (who had two even more unfortunately named brothers whose names I’m not even going to try and include here), out of his own funds, the library houses a collection of over 25,000 books. The first librarian was a Frenchman named Elias Bouhereau, whose own collection of books (which subsequently became part of the overall library collection) may have been an influencing factor in getting the job. There is a list of former librarians over one of the doorways. It’s a lovely tribute to the librarians who worked there.
Of course no old building would be complete without its own ghost and Archbishop Marsh purportedly still haunts the building looking for a letter written by his niece who, fed up with being poorly treated, ran off one night to marry her lover. Of more interest to me were the bullet holes which pierced several books, a doorway and one of the window shutters during the 1916 Rising.
We also received a lovely presentation from Maria on some of the different books which the library has in its collection. From a tiny book, with print so small you’d need a magnifying glass to read it, to a large manuscript with elaborate designs, she regaled us with information about the bindings, the paper and recycling in old printers’ shops. Of course, how those old coverings were created seems a little unpleasant for modern tastes (latrine-based techniques apparently) but all of that history is fascinating – particularly because there is currently no module on our course about this.
The library asks that no-one take photos of the interior of the library or the books, so I can’t share any of those sights with you. What I can do is recommend that you go along and see it for yourself. The admission price is only €2.50, which is an absolute steal when you consider what is there. Donations for the maintenance and upkeep of the books are also welcome. Take the time to inhale the smell of old books and oak bookcases. Sign the visitor’s book with an actual quill. But most of all, savour the fact that you are standing in a piece of history.