1 January 2022 Susannah

Book Addict Visits a Library – Pepys Library

Covid has made me realise how vitally important libraries are in my life. The day after lockdown ended when I was at last able to stand inside a library again, and see around me so many books from which I could choose, was the day I finally felt normal again. Total bliss!

Last year I offered you a selection of book addicts, ardent collectors whose passion for books had become famous. This year, I’d like to take you to some of my favourite libraries around the world.

So, I will start with my favourite library of all – the Pepys Library in Cambridge. When diarist Samuel Pepys died in 1703, he left his collection of books to his old university college. His bequest included the original bookcases that had been made to his design by a naval carpenter – they are themselves works of art. He had over 3,000 books, including the diary which was not then transcribed or known.

The building housing this library is gorgeous, and the collection is extraordinary. It holds Pepys’ own copy of Newton’s Principia Mathematica, lots of music (Pepys adored music and was a talented amateur musician), prints, naval records, ballads, medieval manuscripts and plays. Pepys felt that a personal library should have in it no more than the mind of one man could encompass, but his mind was remarkable and his library is a testament to his wide-ranging interests and many skills.

Of course, the jewel in this library is the diary, which is in six volumes, written in the shorthand he used. I find it so moving to see this book and to recall all the pleasure it has given me.

Visiting hours at the library are limited, so do plan your next visit to Cambridge when it is open. It’s an absolute treasure!

Do share with me some of the libraries you love most. Are they in Australia, or special places you’ve visited overseas? Tell me by leaving a comment here.

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Featured image credit- Pepys Library, Magdalene College, image from https://www.magd.cam.ac.uk/pepys
Body image credit- The Library is housed on the first floor of the Pepys Building of Magdalene College, image from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=466314
Body image credit- Pepys Library, Magdalene College, bookshelves, image from https://twitter.com/LiterateIndy/status/1101943259142803467
Body image credit- The six volumes of the Samuel Pepys diary manuscript, (London, 1899)., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5950295

Comments (20)

  1. Tony

    Thanks Susannah.
    Libraries are such special spaces. One of my favourites is Queen’s College, Oxford, where our don Jonathan was a student. Another is the SouthAfrican National Library in Cape Town. I went ti school right nect door.
    All the best,
    To y

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Thanks for the two suggestions, Tony. I have not visited either, but did once have a memorable visit to the Rare Books section of the Cape Town Uni library – a fabulous Kipling collection there!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, wasn’t it excellent news about the Honresfield Library.
      I have not been to the Bologna Library, so thanks for letting me know about it – sounds wonderful!
      Happy New Year!

  2. Miland Joshi

    This is more of a museum than a library, but one containing the works of one of Britain’s greatest teachers of Mathematics, W.W. Sawyer. It is in Pune, India, where I was at secondary school. It belongs to an educational foundation set up by his admirers with its own website (which is how I learned of them). His daughter sent them his archives after he passed on, so I’ve seen actual handwritten manuscripts by him on a recent visit (before the Covid pandemic).
    Sawyer was concerned for people with a fear of Maths which he believed was caused by bad teaching, and his book Mathematician’s Delight was written to help them.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Thanks for that information, Miland. I’m afraid I fall into the category of people he was trying to help – although perhaps mine was not so much a fear of maths as it was a fear of the boredom it brought me. But it’s good that a museum has preserved all that info.

  3. Maria

    I loved the Fisher library as a student many decades ago but I’ve not been for a long time and fear that it has changed and I might not like it any more. It was large and spacious with some great paintings on the walls and the card catalogue was beautiful and imposing. Fisher seemed to contain such a wide variety of knowledge, was so peaceful and had lovely views from its many windows. More recently, I’ve been impressed that so many municipal libraries have been beautifully renovated and even some new ones built in established areas. Council libraries were often shabby, neglected places but not any more, and I’ve been delighted to see that happen.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I still visit the Fisher Library to do research, but it has changed in recent years and I don’t think it is the place it once was.
      Isn’t it fabulous that local libraries are being so well designed and proving popular. I love the new library at Double Bay, though am sad that the contents are moving to many copies of the same popular novel, while good critical and biographical works are being scrapped.

  4. Suzanne Woolley

    One of the most impressive libraries I have visited is at Blickling – a National Trust property in Norfolk, It is truly magnificent, I have been to the Pepys Library in Cambridge and loved it, in fact the whole College is lovely – very quiet and very few tourists

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I visited Blickling about 30 years ago and have to admit I can’t remember the library. Obviously time for another visit there.

  5. Anneke

    Thanks Susannah. Despite my three years in Cambridge I was unaware of this library!
    I have fond memories of the splendid circular reading room in the British Museum, where I spent two weeks doing research, back in the early 1980-ies. Sadly, this wonderful room with the reading desks radiating outwards from the central hub is no longer in use.

    At the other end of the library spectrum was the tiny room that functioned as one of the very few Dutch-language libraries in Brussels when I was a child. Books were stacked two deep on the shelves and the librarian kept part of the collection in his attic as there was not enough space in the library! As a child one paid 1 Belgian franc to borrow a book and my pocket money could just cover the regular visits. After I had read every single ‘children’s book’ I moved to the ‘adults’ shelves’ where I started by working my way through the complete Dickens (in translation of course) asking for a new volume to be brought from the attic when I returned the book I had finished. Without that tiny library and its volunteer librarian my access to books would have been extremely limited as there was not even a library at school!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Thanks so much for sharing your story of the Dutch library in Brussels. What a wonderful librarian! Did you discover Jane Austen there?

  6. Tricia Koffel

    Even though it’s been a very long time since we have chatted, Susannah, it’s been great to keep track of you over the years and to know that your love, passion and knowledge of all things to do with literature and books and writers has not diminished. So enjoyed this latest contribution of yours – something special to visit next chance I have to go to the U.K.
    Warmest regards,
    Tricia Koffel

    • Susannah Fullerton

      How fabulous to hear from you, Tricia, and many thanks for your kind words. Amazingly, your email came through when I was about to attend a wedding – Imogen Rahr, one of your old pupils, was getting married, and I worked out that there were 7 old pupils form Glenmore Road at the wedding and reception. Thanks for the great work you did as principal there!
      I hope that 2022 is full of good books, and perhaps you might join some of my on-line lectures and we can say Hi over zoom.
      My three children all send their best wishes.

      • Tricia Koffel

        Oh, such a special reply, Susannah – thanks! Congratulations to Imogen! Hi to Elinor, Carrick and Kenneth! Always wonderful for me to hear about any Glenmore Roaders. Look forward to connecting with you during the year. Tricia

        • Susannah Fullerton

          I assume you receive my free monthly newsletter, ‘Notes from a Book Addict’? If not, do sign up for it on my website and that will also entitle you to a free video talk.
          Happy New Year.

          • Tricia Koffel

            Thanks, will do, Susannah. Special library for me – the Library of Trinity College, Dublin, being in the Long Room and seeing the Book of Kells many, many years ago but still vivid in my mind. Cheers, Tricia

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