Recently I ran across a fascinating project, Unpacking My Library: Architects and Their Books, produced by Urban Center Books and the Municipal Art Society of New York. The project is a series of exhibitions and book that investigates the personal libraries of some prominent architects in the city. Quoting from the Web site's blurb about the forthcoming book:
What does a library say about the mind of its owner? How do books map the intellectual interests, curiosities, tastes, and personalities of their readers? What does the collecting of books have in common with the practice of architecture? Unpacking My Library provides an intimate look at the personal libraries of fourteen of the world’s leading architects, alongside conversations about the significance of books to their careers and lives.
Photographs of bookshelves – displaying well-loved and rare volumes, eclectic organizational schemes, and the individual touches that make a bookshelf one’s own – provide an evocative glimpse of their owner’s personal life. Each architect also presents a reading list of top ten influential titles, from architectural history to theory to fiction and nonfiction, that serves as a kind of personal philosophy of literature and history, and as advice on what every young architect, scholar, and lover of architecture should read.
I find that I think a lot about the personalities of libraries. Unlike a library amassed by a single person, institutional libraries like the Carter's bear the the influences of many individuals over the course of their development: librarians, staff, and many others. They also reflect the various projects the institution has tackled over the years. Collections such as ours also grow through gifts and on several occasions has taken in whole personal libraries (one big example is Eliot Porter's library). It's clear that many people can claim to have made a mark on the collection. It's an amalgam of all these influences. The point is, the Carter library has a personality, complete with idiosyncrasies. It is a unique and dynamic organism, and that's a part of what makes it such a treasure.