When first arriving at Gladstone’s Library for my interview back in November, I chugged into the visitor’s car park in my less than reliable KA following my first solo car journey beyond the tranquil circuit of Builth Wells, feeling enormously triumphant and thankfully alive. As I pulled up, I was immediately in awe of the sheer grandeur of this library tucked away in the pocket of Hawarden. Making my way to the entrance, mouth agape, I couldn’t wait to get inside and find out all that this beautiful place had to offer.
When inside, I was guided to the Gladstone room where I would be meeting the Library’s existing interns. I opened the door to a large Victorian sitting room, complete with roaring fire and rich brown leather sofas, upon which the interns sat drinking tea and chatting to residents. I could imagine William Ewart Gladstone himself not looking out of place here by the fire in a pair of quilted slippers.
The interns were a friendly, tight-knit trio who appeared to make the most of the library’s various niches in order to terrify each other during the nightly lock-up. They took me on their grand tour of the building, which included a few of their own tales of their time at Gladstone’s, and it struck me how the further we got along their tour, the more I wanted to be part of the little community that they had here, and how much I wanted to get my hands on some of the books they had been telling me about- particularly the 1863 edition of Dante’s Inferno, which is held in the Strong Room of Gladstone’s Library, but for now I’d have to wait for that.
When I stepped inside the library itself, the first thing that caught my eye was the gallery. Shelves filled with books of assorted colours and binding towered high to meet the beautifully embellished oak beamed ceiling. I pictured myself in a scene from ‘Beauty and the Beast’ where Belle glides along the books shelves on a library ladder. Safe to say I was getting quite carried away with this image before I had even got the job. But lo and behold, here I am writing this blog post from the enquiry desk at Gladstone’s Library, at the end of my second week here as the new Library intern and I already feel as though I’m becoming part of the furniture.
I’m delighted to be involved with the Library’s cataloguing project, in which the Library team are currently re-cataloguing the Glynne-Gladstone correspondence, and are hoping to find out many interesting stories to tell of William Gladstone. We are also currently in the process of creating a “New and Recommended’ shelf for those books you have always meant to read and those you didn’t know you wanted to. My own addition to the shelf is a section on Victorian medicine, which includes a book which I found hidden in the depths of the Annex on Victorian doctors (perhaps aptly) named Quacks and also Wilkie Collins’ novel Heart and Science.
From my experiences here so far, what I think Gladstone’s Library chiefly offers is access. Not only access to knowledge but also access to the library experience. Users are free to explore a library immersed in its own history and the history of its founder. Here you aren’t left to wander aimlessly around (unless you so wish) but are welcomed in with open arms and made to feel connected with the Library, its past and present, through its tactile nature.
I find it enchanting how visitors can simply pull one of William Gladstone’s own books from the shelves, nestle down into an armchair in one of the library’s many nooks, and skim for hours through a former Prime Minister’s jotted annotations. Or alternatively take a book which they have read perhaps a thousand times and simply relish the feeling of being somewhere exceptional.