It was in 2005 that I photographed the first library. I was working for the architect Sir Norman Foster and made a documentation of the newly built Philological Library of the Free University in Berlin.
It took some more years to develop my passion for libraries. In the early spring of 2007 I spent some days in New York. One rainy day I stepped into the monumental neo-classical building of the public library more or less by accident. The Rose Main Reading Room was well filled with people. When I entered the hall, I immediately plunged into an atmosphere of absolute silence and concentration. The huge space resembled a cathedral, the wooden partition where a librarian was quietly sorting some papers recalled the impression of an Orthodox church iconostasis. The grey light of a New York rainy day shimmered through the large arched windows above the bookshelves on both sides. The hall was lit by two rows of giant chandeliers and by reading lamps with golden shades on the tables. Readers, immersed in their studies didn’t notice my entrance. The silence was accentuated only by the sounds of turning pages, dampened steps and an occasional suppressed cough.
The memory of my first attempts to read came to my mind. I was a kid when it came to me like a revelation, when I understood that the arduous deciphering of alphabetic characters would bring me to an infinite new world of stories and adventures. It hit me like a flash when I realized the potential of reading. It was the key to a universe which I could discover and control by myself, without guidance or interpretation by an adult. This was my chance to escape from the limiting rules of family and school life and wander my own paths. ‘Give us books – give us wings’ stated the advertisement of a children’s book publishing house. It was in the early sixties of 20thcentury. We lived in a small Bavarian town where my father had found a job as an engineer in the only local industry, a company which built agricultural tractors. Opposite our house, in the basement of an old and rundown building where some socially deprived families with many children lived in crowded apartments, was the local public library. It was open every Tuesday afternoon and soon one could watch me, a shy 10 year old boy, creeping past the table of a stiff looking librarian to the children’s corner and returning home with stacks of books. With deep satisfaction I snuck to the attic of the spacious old house we lived in and I read and read and read…
In 2014 I started to intensify my research for library halls. I discovered the astounding Upper Lusatian Library of Sciences in Goerlitz, close to the Polish border, which smelled so unforgettably of old wood, the fantastic new public library of Stuttgart built by Korean architect Eun Young Yi as a modern counterpart and later on the baroque monastery libraries in Austria and Portugal, with their ostentatious display of wealth, sanctuaries of knowledge about God’s will, institutions of clerical power.
I still love reading. I don’t collect books anymore. In times of the Internet bookshelves have become mere decorative elements of interior design. Images of libraries tell us stories of times when people found wisdom and knowledge from reading books and evenings were shared while reading aloud to one another.In those days people talked about the latest novel or were emotionally torn apart by the destiny of a main figure and forgot about their own problems. Those were the times when the world seemed so simple that it fit between the covers of a book.