Travel is a busy affair. We rush to catch planes and trains. We march at a fast pace through a new city hoping to see as much as possible before our visit expires. We consume new experiences and food. Always with forward motion.
I had just spent two weeks doing just that. First Belfast, then Edinburgh, and then a hike along Hadrian’s Wall. Pressing on to London with the sightseeing, a Harry Potter geek-out and an East End walking tour. I’m not complaining, mind you. It was a great trip. But after all of that rushing around, I needed some down time. And I got just that at the Gladstone’s Library in Wales.
Gladstone and His Library
William Gladstone was a long time Member of Parliament and Prime Minister of the UK during the mid to late 1800’s. He had a vast and varied appetite for reading, accumulating over 32,000 books in his lifetime. He had a strong belief in the power of religion which shaped his participation in politics, his advocacy for emerging democracies and his support for human rights.
Gladstone’s library is the UK’s only Prime Ministerial library and one of the world’s few residential libraries that isn’t appended to a university. The library houses Gladstone’s collection along with 250,000 other printed works. They have a writers-in-residence program, conference facilities, host a book fair and offer regular multi-day courses on literary and language topics. The Victorian building houses the library collection in the the west wing and the east wing is home to 26 rooms which are available for accommodation.
Sleeping in the Library
I’m a book nerd, recovering bookseller and a literary tourist. So when I first heard about the library, I was beside myself. A residential library? Where do I sign up? The UK trip that I had been talking about doing for years suddenly got prioritized because now I could append my own library slumber party onto the itinerary.
My fellow residents were the bookish usual suspects whom you would expect to find at a residential library. A corporate group on retreat. A woman working on a project for her ministry. A volunteer cleric (and fellow Camino Pilgrim
) who was providing religious and gardening services. And a professor from the University of Texas who had just finished up a seminal work on how zombies in our pop culture represent the collective trauma of a post 9-11 apocalypse. But, of course.
We were each there for our own reasons but we were bound together by the library. My own purpose at the library was to have no purpose other than to be at the library. After two weeks of running around the UK, I just wanted to sit still. And so I did.
What astonished me about the library was its peaceful quietude. You expect libraries to be quiet places but this one offers absolute….total…silence.
While in the library, I would hear the occasional scrape of a chair, or the rustle of papers. But I could go for several hours and hear nothing but the rush of my own pulse.
That silence combined with the physical beauty of the library and the comforting presence of the books served to put me in a most tranquil state of mind. While in the library, I read the book “How to Be Bored
” by Eva Hoffman. The author advocates for unplugged idleness, creative pursuits and contemplative concentration as means to stay balanced. She also espouses reading as a way to help the mind stretch and roam. The message of the book and the quietude of the library served as good reminders to me that we should all take moments to slow down and do a check-in with our interior state. A temporary retreat from the hustle with time for contemplation will act as a restorative for the creative juices.
“Books are a delightful society. If you go into a room filled with books, even without taking them down from their shelves, they seem to speak to you, to welcome you.” – William Gladstone
I came away from the library reminded to slow down. I came away wanting to seek more comfort in the solitude of books. And now I’m determined to spend more time in libraries.
Have you been to Gladstone’s or another library that you loved? Where can you find peace, serenity, or inspiration while traveling? Please leave us comments or questions below!