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This article is taken from PN Review 259, Volume 47 Number 5, May - June 2021.

Pictures from a Library, cover

Pictures from the Rylands Library
Blueprint for a Library
Stella Halkyard

John Rylands Library Blueprint

Now, of course, I can’t remember what possessed my teenage self to walk into the John Rylands Library in the late 1970s. It wasn’t something any of my family had done before me, though their nimble Lancastrian fingers had for generations bleached, dyed, spun and woven cotton in factories like those that were the source of the Rylands’ wealth. Nor was I consciously in search of poetry. At that time the poets I knew best were more likely to be found on the streets rocking against racism. But by stepping into the rosy-gloom of this shrine to learning something in me took root. It became my ‘corner of the world’ (Gaston Bachelard) and my blueprint for a library. Ever since it has been a haunt to which I have returned to read, study and, most unlikely, spend the lion’s share of a working life as an employee. Until now, that is, when a pandemic has locked it down and shut me out.

Yet, ‘places write themselves upon memory’ and the Rylands dwells in me as a ‘palimpsest of association’ (Janet Donohoe) that can be re­turned to and explored at will. In my mind’s eye as I climb the thirty feet of staircase I see the play of late afternoon sunshine filter onto sandstone. Crossing the threshold into the Reading Room the ‘spatial extravagance’ (Nicholas Pevsner) of its soaring vaults impresses. Alcoves tuck in left and right, college-wise, providing nooks to ‘hold the shape of a reader’s body and contain their ...

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