bookporn #22: the UL, cambridge

I thought, since I had written about it recently, that it was about time that I bookporned the myriad faces of our University Library, affectionately known as the You-El (UL), which varies so wildly in character from section to section that no one photo will do its manifold glory justice; therefore consider this a humble acknowledgment of complexity, rather than a simplistic — dare I say imperialistic? — caricature.

cambridge university library reading room

those high windows, so reminiscent of another splendid library we have previously encountered, are (so I am told) an ingenious solution to let natural light flood in, without permitting the slothful student’s attention to flood out. as this results in a very agreeable aura of Splendour and Magnificence, I am prepared to let such fascism pass.

but Splendour and Magnificence is largely confined to the ground floor. mostly the UL is a proletarian affair — it is all about those long, narrow, space-efficient and seemingly-infinite corridors

cambridge university library cambridge university library

(except for the occasional secret aristocratic room)

cambridge university library

and the overflow. oh, the overflow.


shelf overflow

and in spite of the borrowing strictures, the overpriced tea room, the cramped stairwells, the arduous daily toil of locating books that will inevitably be found at opposite ends of the immense library, the arcane classification system, the even more arcane manual bag-checking routine at the exit …

cambridge university library

some way, somehow — I am still inordinately fond of the darned thing.


9 responses to “bookporn #22: the UL, cambridge

  • Mike L

    I look forward eagerly to each instalment of bookporn (my university library on the other side of the world is so much younger). Thought you and your readers might be interested in this story from BLDGBLOG on the conversion of an old church in Maastricht into a bookstore. I saw it two minutes after reading your post. It’s a convergence, not of new technologies, but of two (receding?) institutions, and also a convergence of ideas, faith, commerce, history, interior design and architecture.

  • reheated

    The UL: lovely.

    After working in the Reading Room, it’s nice to put on a coat and hat and roam the outer halls. From memory, the North Wing 4th floor is where all the good history books are.

    ps. on reading in general:

    some speculative thoughts….

  • Rachel

    Thanks to both for the links, especially the photos of the church in Maastricht, which I would certainly not have otherwise encountered & my day and indeed life is better for it 🙂

    @ reheated: thank you for the thoughts on your link; I am glad there are others thinking about it. I am sometimes troubled by how the work of a historian seems to necessitate roughly pillaging a lovingly-crafted book for contents relevant to our own needs. I always want to do a book full justice, but it just doesn’t seem possible or even feasible. and besides, not all books are made equal: it’s not always evident from the get-go which books one should get married to and which deserve only a one-night stand, or indeed, casual rape. and in the meantime, a book is published nearly every minute … o terrible gift of print culture

  • robin

    Ack. That churchbookstore just blew my mind.

    Actually, I think the “book rape” analogy did, too. Egad.

  • Rachel

    I sometimes think about annexing the UL. or maybe a unilateral declaration of independence might suffice, as per Kosovo’s excellent example .. 🙂

  • Christian

    Speaking as a (very junior) librarian at the UL, taking pictures is very very not allowed, so if you took these, shame on you!
    Speaking as a first-year Art Historian writing an essay about the library and needing photos for it … thanks a lot.

  • Judy

    Well, I dare say that if you’re gg to go “aristocratic” this is the way to do it and do it well they did. this place is breath taking as it is grand. and as for the “over flow”, it seems to me a very precious thing to have access to a space such as this where books over flow. I’d call it “darling” rather than “darned” myself …a bit sappy, but there it is.

  • eccentric parabola

    Your architectural critique of the windows is hilarious!!

    Someone really should commission you to write book about the world’s most gorgeous libraries extravagantly illustrated with lavish colour photos.

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