21 February 2009
the Hayden Library basement at MIT
I've been spending a lot of time in the Hayden Library at MIT, with frequent visits to basement where the books on books are. Usually, I hate basement libraries, with the books shoved in some dark, damp corner with cement floors, metal shelves and all the pipes exposed. I like to study surrounded by happy, healthy books that roam free in the sunlight, mingle with people, get left in crooked stacks on tables or in chairs. Basement libraries, though, tend to look like prisons or cages; retrieving the books is like descending into the hold of a ship, unchaining the book from its metal shelving, liberating it temporarily to see sunlight -- only to have it brought right back down when you're done with it. Kind of like the dog in Umberto Eco's L'isola del giorno prima, kept in a dark room, its wound salted daily so the ship could communicate with distant lands.
The more I visit the Hayden basement, though, the more I've come to appreciate it, even love it. Most of it is taken up with stacks of periodicals bound in bright colors, creating solid blocks of books. The titles are pure MIT -- plasma chemistry, the polymer bulletin -- and the stacks are delightfully irregular, even running into a random 4-foot cinderblock wall at one point. I love the tension between the basement's exposed chaos and the tightly-bound order of the periodicals, all the differences of the flimsy originals homogenized into a thick, bright vinyl cover; and I love the drawers full of maps, mundanely labeled "WORLD." Hell, I've even come to like how the fourescent bulbs make the covers glow.
Here's a few photos I took yesterday, with apologies for the bad focus. I'm an enthusiastic but horrible photographer; I just point and click.