Have you ever fancied having a look around the Megabibliotheca in Mexico City or the ancient Biblioteco Vasconcelos in the city of Alexandria, or just have a nosy in the Library of Canadian Parliament? Well actually, you can, and all you have to do is sit in a room full of trees and books to do it.
A partnership between Ex Machina, Robert LePage, Alberto Manguel and the Bibliotheque et Archives Nationales du Quebec (BAnQ) in Montreal has brought 10 of the most fascinating, beautiful or historic libraries from past and present directly to your hands, or eyes, in a creative exhibition unlike anything you’ll ever have seen before. Due to finish at the end of August, the exhibition has been running since October last year, and I had the opportunity to take it in while I was in Montreal last November, and was blown away by the majesty of the ability that it gives you to take in the traditions of books and reading from the past, as well as in other cultures.
As you walk into BAnQ, you are taken to a small room which is set up to look like a very small, personal library, with old books and fireplaces and relics from days gone past. After a short speech about what’s to come, you proceed into the main exhibition room, a large space filed with trees with books as leaves, and sit at one of the many tables which are adorned with reading lamps.
Then you put on your video immersion headset, and you’re transported to a world of libraries, where nobody else knows you, nobody can interrupt you and all you can see are people enjoying the written word, immersing themselves in an alternate reality. From a Japanese library where traditions and reading intertwined, to a Buddhist library where only monks were allowed to enter, and the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, the gems that you discover while you enter and depart from each of the incredible structures is just as fascinating.
The Library at Night, so called after Alberto Manguel’s book of the same name (in French), was designed to help visitors fall back in love with libraries as they take a virtual tour of some of the most beautiful ones in the world. The library has been open in Montreal for 10 years, and is trying to make its mark on the city as a bridge between the technological world and home life, and create a new meeting place, almost like a church, where people can get together, learn something new, and have their minds engaged.
The exhibition, which is available in both French and English, is well worth a visit, because even if you hadn’t thought of visiting a library before, you will afterwards. Because why miss out on a tour you can take while sitting on a comfortable chair, in a beautiful room, in an exquisite city?