Well, the smog cleared to a perfect early Summer day – wonderful for visiting the Huntington centre. A one hour tour of the gardens did my cold and cough much good, and I basked in the sunshine. Our tour guide was quick to point out Australian specimens! I especially enjoyed the Japanese and children’s gardens. The latter is all child sized, and as I walked in, two little girls rushed through the pint-sized blue gate and verdant tunnel, the older calling ‘You never know what is on the other side of a tunnel’. A lovely motif for a library I thought!
I also visited the Library’s exhibition hall. The Huntington buildings were built in the 1910s and are traditional in style. Likewise the exhibition gallery which is well thought out and provides a walk through some of the Library’s areas of collecting – illuminated manuscripts to early books, early American history, early American literature and – its great strength – the history of the west coast of the United States. Some highlights included a Gutenberg Bible on vellum (only 12 of these exist), Books of Hours and Breviaries (not, I thought, as beautiful as the National Library of Australia’s Clifford collection), Shakespeare first quartos and folios, and many 18th and 19th century first editions of British and American literature.
A number of manuscripts were on display. I most enjoyed seeing a page from Thoreau’s Walden Pond. This was apparently written in 7 versions before publication, and the Huntingdon holds all 7 versions plus the corrected proofs of the first edition. Other treats were a letter from Charlotte Bronte about reviews of the already successful Jane Eyre, and various ms pages of Auden, Isherwood and Spender. I found the displays of the manuscripts a little frustrating. Although they provided good context about the creators and circumstances, I really could not ascertain from the exhibition whether most ms items were ‘one-off’s, the kind of curiosities that collectors acquire, or were part of larger and more substantial archives. Something to think about when we display our NLA archives.
I took a quick look into the very traditional reading room in the research centre. This is not open to the public – scholars have to apply to work there. Around 1000 readers attend every year (around one-quarter of the number who use the NLA Reading Room each year). I suspect that cataloging and findng aids are very traditional, and wonder to what extent the Huntington can participate in newer technologies. But oh what a wonderful place in which to do one’s research.
I did not make any appointments at the Huntington – this was really an homage to one of the world’s great libraries – and I’m glad I didn’t as I was just too sick to be able to meet professionally. But something about the woman next to me in the cafe lunch queue suggested she might work in the library. Indeed, I was right – she worked in manuscripts. In the smalltalk we exchanged, I learned that the manuscripts collection is still being developed, through donations and occasional purchases. But I suspect its glory days of collecting are over, and of course its main mission is to document a particular part of America’s past.
Alas, I had to skip the art galleries, as I was feeling unwell and my coughing and nose-blowing would have been unpleasant for others around me. But still, a wonderful visit and I’m very glad to have been here.
Here is a shot of part of the wonderful desert garden, full of cacti, succulents and agaves I’d never seen before.
the magnificent Japanese garden:
The blue gate in the children’s garden:
and the Library exhibition hall (the Research Centre is behind this building):