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Monday, June 12, 2006

The Pleasure of Private Libraries


The New York Times has a story about the beauty of membership libraries, where people pay dues of around $90 a year to join a private sanctuary. Besides easy access to copies of all the latest books, members get to hear authors talk, lively discussions of books and themes, and access to their own private research librarians.

People in the Bay Area are lucky to have The Mechanic’s Institute, a private library, located in our midst. Founded more than 150 years ago, the Mechanics is housed in a gracious five-story building on Post Street in downtown San Francisco. Its chess room – and chess competitions – are famous around the region, and it’s a treasure trove for book lovers, all for $95 a year.

When Joan Didion came to the Bay Area to promote The Year of Magical Thinking, crowds clamored for tickets to her talk at City Arts and Lecture. You could have seen her for free in a small, intimate room at the Mechanics, and even had a good cup of coffee while you sat.

During the 100th anniversary celebration of the San Francisco earthquake, the Mechanics hosted both Dennis Smith, the former New York City firefighter and best-selling author who wrote the narrative, San Francisco is Burning, and Simon Winchester, who wrote A Crack in the Edge of the World.

This Friday is the annual Bloomsday celebration, an extravaganza of everything James Joyce. Put together by the Mechanics Institute’s Mark Singer, a research libraian who has more than 400 piece of Joycean memorabilia, the evening promises:

“Hilarity and ribaldry reign during our annual reading of James Joyce’s, Ulysses, marking the modern day odyssey of its protagonist Leopold Bloom through Dublin. Enjoy performances by local actors, readings by the audience, and our special Bloomsday Menu. Dress smart for the part!”

On Thursday June 22, Mark Danner, a writer and professor of journalism at the Berkeley School of Journalism, will talk about the secret Downing Street memos and the war in Iraq. He will be introduced by Frank Rich, the columnist for the New York Times.

These kinds of programs, put together by the events coordinator Laura Sheppard, rival anything being presented in the Bay Area.

1 comment:

Lance Knobel said...

The Mechanic's Institute looks wonderful. I'll have to have a look.

The Times article mysteriously didn't mention the world's greatest private lending library, The London Library, which has over 1 million volumes in its warren of buildings in St James's Square. If you are going to be in London at some point, let me know and I'll make sure you get a proper tour.