From September 2015 through February 2016, Jillian Tomm, MLIS’02, PhD’13, led a team of librarians and other helpers in cataloguing the library of writer Alberto Manguel, recently named director of the National Library of Argentina. The rotating team lived in Mr. Manguel’s home in the small village of Mondion, France, amidst fruit trees and flowers, and with the birds and other animals who make the ex-presbytery and its large walled garden their home.
Team members included Prof. Elaine Ménard, Jocelyn Godolphin, previously Associate University Librarian for Collection Services at Concordia University and former instructor at SIS, and Jim Henderson, now retired from McGill University Library.
Mr. Manguel’s library has for the last fifteen years been housed, used, and added to in a multi-room building reconstructed for the purpose from the ruins of a stone barn. The library proper consists of a large main hall and two “écritoires” or studies, but the full collection flows into every room of the house. Containing approximately 30,000 volumes, the collection is eclectic and deeply personal. It is particularly rich in English language literature, but includes substantial portions of literature in French and Spanish, as well as smaller groups in Italian, German, Portuguese, Hebrew, and other languages. Acquired over several decades, parts of the collection date from his years reading to Jorge Luis Borges as a teenager in Buenos Aires in the 1960s. Non-fiction sub-collections include, of course, books about books and libraries, but also sections on art, history, philosophy, and religion.
Illustrated volumes and author-inscribed editions abound, along with thousands of volumes carrying Manguel’s annotations, letters from authors (including Canadian icons like Robertson Davies), and other personal markings and ephemera related to the books.
Not surprisingly for such a living and loved library, books are everywhere interspersed with images and objects of all kinds, from statues to toys, with a thematic or personal – often whimsical – connection to the volumes sharing the shelf.
By day, team members worked to inventory and catalogue books, and in off hours they made more personal discoveries in the main library as well as among the thousands of mystery novels and the hundreds of titles on food and culinary life. Weekends were spent enjoying the rural beauty of the La Vienne region, and in the areas of historical interest in the Loire valley or nearby cities.
The library is currently en route to North America; this group was among the last to enjoy what was truly a paradise for readers.
The bulk of the library is catalogued, including its primary collections of English and French literature, but to fully inventory this enormous collection, work remains to be done. Once the books settle into a new home another team (perhaps from McGill?) will take up this inspiring task.
A recreation of Manguel’s Mondion library is featured in the exhibit “The Library at Night: Great Libraries of the World in an Virtual-reality Universe,” running at the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ) until August 28, 2016.
Interested in reading more? Enjoy the article “Que faire avec les 30 000 livres d’Alberto Manguel? La bibliothèque, classée selon une logique propre à l’auteur, est une espèce en voie de disparition” featuring Jillian Tomm in the Dec. 8, 2015 edition of Le Devoir, available online.