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TGR, Gutenberg, Rubric

March 2015



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World building... What is my library like?

The opening of "Gutenberg's Other Book" takes place in front of the University Libary where he has been working for six weeks to appraise and catalog a collection of rare books and manuscripts that the library has acquired. After reading the first 240 words that I wrote, I realized that I had to do some world building in order to set the scene appropriately for the opening of the book. After all, a library is a world of its own.

The Kane-Felton Memorial Library faces north. The entrance is a four-story atrium with a bowed glass wall that illuminates the frescoed interior wall without exposing it to direct sunlight. A mosaic floor is a fanciful imagining of the architects view of what the library at Alexandria must have looked like. Quiet seating areas in various-sized groupings dot the atrium, including tables where students often sit with their coffees and discuss every topic covered by the immense library.

In the summer, the lower tier of glass panels slide apart so that the atrium is open to the humid air and students spill out onto the courtyard in front of the library. The courtyard extends around the reflecting pool and continues the mosaic theme with colored cement slabs and stepping stones across the shallow pool. It was as if the architect knew that no student would be able to keep his feet out of the water, so made multiple convenient access points.

The atrium and courtyard were so sociable that it was easy to forget that just on the other side of the frescoed wall was one of the most extensive collections of scholarly works in North America -- and one of themost technologically advanced facilities in the world.

Behind the atrium's Egyptian facade, the rest of the library was very traditional with the exception that all study carousels were equipped withoutlets and network access. Accoustics had been carefully planned to deaden sound, increasing thequiet inthelibrary and reminding students that as sociable as the atrium might be, inside was a sanctum of the printed word, meant for study and reading... in silence.

The rare books and manuscripts collection on the fourth floor was a secure facility, atmospherically controlled with its own power system. Contained within the sealed cabinets and low illumination display cases was themost extensive collection of American incunabula outside the Library ofCongress. It also contained a fair share of European relics and a few thirteenth century Asian examples from both Korea and China.

Experts in the care and handling of fragile documents were given limited access to the documents, but only under supervision. PhD candidates with legitimate research needs had to take a course in document care and handling, were given white gloves and a reading table, and were assisted by a librarian who turned pages and moved documents. Students did not bring pencils or pens into this room. It was equipped much the way a forensics lab is with a central microphone into which the student dictated her notes and a high resolution, low-light digital camera the student could use to photograph pages for later reference. Most students appropriately oohed and ahhed over the specimen they were examining, then took their photographs and studied under high magnification on their computer screens. Few made more than one or two trips into this inner sanctum.

Then, of course, the whole front of the building is blown up and the hero is knocked unconscious.


Wow. Clearly someone wealthy put a lot of money into this building. And then it gets blown up!