Riga – Latvian National Library

The National Library of Latvia is located in an impressive building known as the ‘Castle of Light’.

The artwork is known as “The Large Vase”, which is very deep and meaningful…..

This reminds me of the building they move into during later series of The Thick of It. But it’s very impressive and I like how it’s possible to see bookstacks when entering the main foyer.

I wasn’t particularly impressed with the set-up the library have to welcome visitors, there are innumerable reception desks and it wasn’t apparent to me what function each one had. I am a member of the British Library and understand that access to the book stacks is always fiercely guarded, but the British Library has much better public access to its permanent exhibitions.

I’m guessing that they’ve put the temporary exhibitions on the higher floors which require reception to sign visitors in, whilst the permanent exhibition is accessible to anyone. But that’s a guess, as I couldn’t find any temporary exhibitions and the queues at the various reception desks impaired my desire to find out.

Anyway, I’m sure the temporary exhibitions are lovely, but it was the permanent exhibition that I wanted to see and I found that. They’d hidden it behind curtains and it might have been useful if they’d signed that visitors could still go in and that the curtains were just protecting the light levels. Unsurprisingly, to me anyway, there were no other visitors during my time in the exhibition.

There are public tours of the building but they’re ad hoc and they appear to require a group to go round. It’s a shame that they don’t encourage greater public access, the librarians could perhaps be just a little prouder of their building. I’m reminded of my visit to San Diego library in California, which is a building of colossal size and complexity, and they were offering tour after tour to build engagement with the public.

Anyway, those gripes out of the way, the permanent exhibition was well put together and it’s worth visiting the library to see it.

This is the first periodical which was published in Latvia, with this particular issue dating to 1697.

A burnt book  🙁

I can only begin to imagine the horror of being a librarian at an institution such as this and seeing huge parts of the collections being destroyed. The destruction of books usually goes hand in hand with a destruction of freedom.

This is glorious, it’s a religious book from France which was owned by the Franciscan friary in the city. It’s one of thirty books which survived from the friary’s collection, an impressive number given the fires and battles which Riga has endured.

One of the oldest items in the library’s collections, dating to the tenth century. It is possible that it was donated to Livonia in the thirteenth century as part of a request from the Pope to support it with liturgical texts, although that isn’t certain.

I’m not sure of how the technology behind this works, but when you turn the pages of the giant book the sound and background display changes. The pages are large and firm, but the binding seemed a bit worn, so I was surprised just how effectively the surroundings changed. At the entrance to this clever exhibit the display reads:

“A book is a door to another world that has no physical boundaries”.

A sketch by Gunnar Birkerts, an American Latvian architect, which formed the basic design of the library building.

The sculpture ‘Divi Raini’ , or ‘Two Rivers’ outside of the library which was unveiled just a couple of weeks ago, in the presence of the country’s President. It’s a very noticeable piece of artwork, designed by Aigars Bikše.

It’s a glorious building, although politically controversial, but the public engagement does seem a little poor compared to all the museums and institutions I’ve visited this week.