The ideal library. Is it personal or is there a sort of universal ideal? Alberto Manguel in his essay “Notes Towards a Definition of the Ideal Library” in A Reader on Reading seems to lean toward the ideal library being personal:

The ideal library is meant for one particular reader. Every reader must feel that he or she is the chosen one.

But at the same time that the ideal is personal, it also has universal elements to it and is public, not private:

The ideal library has comfortable but supportive seats with armrests and a curved back, like those of the lamented Salle Labrouste at the Bibliotechque nationale de France. The ideal library has ample desks, preferably with smooth leather tops [yuck! wood is just fine for me thank you very much], sockets for electronic equipment (on condition that they perform in utter silence), and soft individual lights that remind you of the green-glass reading lamps at the Colegio Nacional de Buenos Aires.

So, a public library but one that feels like it is the personal library of every reader? I can agree to that even though I am greedy and would want the library to belong just to me. I’d let you all visit, of course.

Other things the ideal library should have according to Manguel is open stacks, the “promise of every possible book,” room to endlessly expand, and most important for a short person such as myself:

No shelf in the ideal library is higher or lower than the reach of the reader’s arm. The ideal library does not require acrobatics.

And believe me, I have performed acrobatics in libraries and bookstores when the book I want is on a shelf higher up that I can reach and there is no stool to be found. One must resort to the timeless art of climbing the shelf while imagining it will fall forward on top of you and bury in books.

My ideal library has twists and turns and secret nooks while at the same time when I know what book I want I can find it easily and without a treasure map. My ideal library also has every book I want to read on the shelf at the moment I want to read it. No waiting – hold 56 of 80 – and no waiting for the book to be delivered from another library. I can walk in, take the book from the shelf and start reading.

My ideal library also allows me to have the book out for as long as I need it. So of course there are no late fines. And the library hours, open whenever I have the time or inclination to walk through its doors. No standing outside looking forlornly in because the library is closed on Wednesdays or only open until 5 on Fridays.

What traits does your ideal library have?

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