Friday, January 25, 2008


I recently had a chance to visit the Beinecke Rare Book Library at Yale. It's a fascinating building -- a central multistory glass tower housing the books is surrounded by a windowless outer shell composed of thin, translucent marble panels. The large and unique interior space features displays of Gutenberg Bibles, first-edition Audubons, and other bibliographic goodies.

All very cool, but it turned out to be an interesting olfactory experience as well. As I walked in, I noticed a distinct odor. Now, I've been in lots of libraries, used bookstores, and other manuscript collections and I recognize the smell of old, musty books. But this was different. It was evocative and mysterious -- complex, slightly acrid, but not unpleasant. I've never really smelled anything like it. Perhaps it was just the cleaning solution they use on the marble combined with old book smell, but I'd like to think it was something more romantic.

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