Beki Grinter

Libraries and Possibilities

In European Union, France on August 16, 2011 at 12:21 pm

Richard Barke recently blogged about his experience of being in Oxford. In the libraries of Oxford he eloquently describes the experience of feeling connected to a set of possibilities. Libraries as temples of knowledge, places of possibilities.

I remember when I gained my resident pass to allow me to enter various buildings at Cambridge. One of the things I did, rather surprisingly, was attend a Sunday service in Kings College Chapel. I’m not religious. I went because I find that when I am in buildings like that I find my perspective altered. I was reminded of that same perspective altering in Richard’s post. His thoughts turned to education and learning. As I sat listening to the choir, mine turned to engineering. Kings College Chapel has the most amazing roof and walls that seem to breathelessly hold it up there. Cathedrals (include Abbeys, Royal Peculiars, Chapels etc…), particularly Norman-Gothic, also bring this sense of wonder to me. When I taught in Metz France, I would enjoy going into the city to do battle using my poor French to acquire those super nice shoes or boots I wanted. And then I would also go to the Cathedral and just wonder at the construction.

I am not religious but, beyond marveling at the engineering, if I have a moment of belief it is in those buildings. I like Cathedrals. I like their perpetual dampness. I like the retreat into their dark coolness on a warm day. In winter I like watching the muted winter sun attempting to project the colours of the stain glass windows onto the floor or pews. I like their silence outside of service. I like taking off my shoes and putting my feet on the floors and feeling the cool of the stones. I like the smell of hymnals and candles in combination with the mustiness of the old building.

All of these bring an inner peace in me. If I feel any inklings of religion its there and only there. It’s a place that I stop. And in that I was reminded of one of Genevieve Bell’s talks about boredom and about how stopping is a time for the brain to be creative, unfettered by the chains of the mobile nag that reminds you of the million unfinished things.

Large megachurches, an object of my research, just don’t invoke the same response in me. For me, megachurches don’t smell right, they don’t feel right, and their climate control while ideal isn’t as sensory as the experience of discovering that cooler damp air. There are lots of things I miss about Europe. But way up there on my list is the sensory experience of old buildings. Richard’s post reminded me of that. Actually it did better than that, it got me really thinking about this. And here it is, for what it’s worth.

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