The library is part of one of one of the top universities in the world, and is tucked away just off Fleet Street (yes, the same Fleet Street from Sweeney Todd fame). When we got there, there was a selection of books set out on the tables. We were given a short talk on the contents of the library, as well as our guides specializations, and then told something that I don’t think any of us expected: we were allowed to touch the books!!! Among them were a copy of the Charters of the Province of Pennsylvania, signed by none other than Benjamin Franklin. There was also a copy of Allen Ginsburg’s collected works, signed by Allen Ginsburg himself, a book by Thomas Payne from 1776 with empty spots printed for politically dangerous stuff to be hand-written in, a bible in the Romanch language with a sycamore leaf pressed in it, popular medical books, and several others. Probably the most impressive to me, tied with the book signed by Ben Franklin, was Der Anti-Nazi. It’s a Jewish publication from 1930s Berlin consisting of arguments against the Nazi party. This specific copy was from a Holocaust survivor.
After we looked at all the books on display for us, we headed over to the Weston Room, which was a chapel until the 19th century. We had tea and biscuits here (I discovered no, I really don’t like coffee!) and had time to look at a small Shakespeare exhibit before heading off on a tour of the rest of the university’s library. When the university acquired the building, which was formerly the home of the National Archives, there were many small rooms with the best fireproofing methods that the architect could think of: stone walls, metal fixtures, cast iron doors, natural lighting, and small storage areas to contain any possible fire. When the building was renovated, the architect left some reminders to the building’s past, including one of the original rooms with floor-to-ceiling metal shelves, but most of it was renovated to become a modern university library. The Round Room, a silent study room now, used to be a reading room when the building was part of the national archives, and it definitely reminds me of the Victorian era!