The Old Library at Trinity College

Have you seen a picture of this library?  It is one of the most iconic historically preserved libraries in the world.  The Old Library at Trinity College was one of many pictures that I’d downloaded as part of a “Library Wallpapers” image bundle for my computer’s desktop when I started this job years ago.  When I am not working in a library, I dream of visiting famous libraries all around the world (which is how you know I’m made for this job). My wife and I had the opportunity to visit Dublin, Ireland last year, so I’m going to share some pictures, information, and a video about our experience.

The History

Construction on the old library began in 1712 and ended in 1732 and it is considered the magnum opus of Irish architect Thomas Burgh.  The exterior is done in the Georgian architecture style that dominates most of Trinity College (and the rest of Dublin).  A tour guide let me know that the windows were impressively large for the time and were designed to let in natural light – a rare commodity in a country known for its gloomy weather.

The Collection

The “Long Room” (main library hall) houses 200,000 historical books on two tall levels, including an 800 A.D. manuscript of the Book of Kells. It also contains a 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic.  We were able to see the Book of Kells during our tour (no pictures allowed) and the color and attention to detail are fascinating for a book (where the pages are made of vellum – calf skin in this case) that is said to be upwards of 1,200 years old.  Just recently, they created an HD digitized scan of the Book of Kells if you would like to see it in their online collection.

The books in Long Room are organized by size, with little tiny books at the top and large, heavy-looking tomes at the bottom.  The bookcases are made of beautifully carved oak.  The narrow A-shaped ladders visible in the video below can be ratcheted along the rail system attached to the walls, providing access to the upper shelves.

There are two floors (although visitors are only allowed on the lower floor) and each book nook is framed by a pair of life-sized busts.  The busts range from the very famous (Socrates, Plato, Jonathan Swift, etc.) to the not-so-famous (Charles Kendal Bushe, Patrick Delany, etc.).

A Personal Note

A significant difference that I noticed during my travels through Ireland was the level of access we gained to many of the historical monuments.  When we traveled to Bunratty Castle (approx. 1250 A.D.) we were actually able to climb through the entire castle, walk in the Great Hall, and look through the parapets on the roof!  Trinity’s Old Library was similar; we were able to walk the floors of the library and could have reached out and touched a book or bust (although we did not because that would have been rude and was against the rules).  Ireland lets visitors get intimate with their history and I appreciated that level of access.

If you are interested in rare books here at the Ross-Blakley Law Library, be sure to check out the blog post written by Associate Director of the Law Library and Head of Research Services, Tara Mospan on the Chained Books we have in the 5th Floor Reading Room.

Bonus Picture

I managed to find a surf shack in Ireland so I had to take a picture. The water looked absolutely frigid and the wind was brutal but plenty of people were still paddling out. I did not join them but I commend their commitment to catching tubes.