A piece of writing begun with a quotation smacks of the adolescent product of a high school creative writing assignment, but authorities at the University of Edinburgh would have us begin every search with a few words of wisdom lifted from a masterpiece of world literature, as can be found at the end of every shelf in the new HUB collection area of the George Square Main Library. Convention can therefore be dispensed with as an homage to one of the many details which make the completed ground floor of the Main Library Redevelopment Project (MLRP) a breathtakingly beautiful accomplishment.
Nobel laureate in literature Jorge Luis Borges once remarked: “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” For the thousands of University of Edinburgh students for whom the services of the Main Library are indispensable to the success of their degrees—that is to say, all of them—the hope has always been that the inverse would also be true. At midnight, with essay or dissertation deadlines looming, exams on the horizon, a belly full of instant coffee and a sleety gale blowing outside to cut off the only escape route to your bed, you need your library to be a kind of Paradise.
Though Borges' theory can only be tested on an individual basis and under extreme circumstances. But within a week thousands of students will be pouring back through the Main Library's restored entrance to find, after a year of disruption, Paradise regained. With brushed steel and glass barriers that lead towards the broad, welcoming arc of the Help Desk and the three massive glass projection screens that are suspended over it, the new lobby gives every impression of an institution that competes with the best of its peers - even the space it closely resembles, the notorious 'suicide' atrium at New York University's library, widely considered to be amongst the finest academic libraries in the world.
A new computer lab and study area build on the theme; every element exudes calm and space - except the study pods, where cocoon-like enclosures offer the perfect setting for isolated concentration. Wall-mounted screens that can be hooked up to laptops, so that tired eyes can get some respite from tiny script, demonstrate the depth of thought and consideration exerted by the designers towards the eventual users.
The many who are arriving at the University of Edinburgh for the first time should know that it was not always thus: one needs only climb to the third and fourth floors to see how far the facilities have come. Yet the ongoing development in stages of the Main Library, presumably to a similar standard to what has already been completed, demonstrates a commitment on the part of university authorities to finally begin taking seriously student pleas for a better studying environment.
Journalists are often accused of interesting themselves only in the negative and the sensational; student journalists are even worse, in that they aspire to their seniors' misanthropy, with added pettiness and ingratitude for good measure.
However, in the best tradition of the library as a source of inspiration for those willing to search, the MLRP presents the opportunity for the unlikeliest of things in the pages of a newspaper: good news.
It's beautiful; and it's ours. To those responsible: thank you.