Built in 1705, Dublin's Marsh's Library is one of the world's longest-surviving public libraries and is an attraction that particularly appeals to book lovers. Located not far from Christ Church Cathedral on St. Patrick's Close, almost hidden behind St. Patrick's Cathedral, the library today is still open to the public, and is one of Dublin's true hidden gems.
When Archbishop of Dublin Narcissus Marsh (1638-1713) decided to open a public library, the concept -- allowing ordinary people access to expensive books for free -- was relatively radical. The idea has spread from England, where public libraries had sprouted up in industrious cities such as Bristol, Ipswich and Norwich. Chetham library in Manchester, built in 1653, has the title of the world's oldest remaining public library. Marsh's is still a library but has not added new books since the 18th century, and is more like a museum today.
Marsh's Library Today
Stepping into Marsh's, you are treated to an experience of an 18th century library -- very little has changed since the library first opened. The first thing that strikes you is the charming musty scent of the ancient leather-bound books, around 20,000 of them, either purchased by Archbishop Marsh or donated to him. The main categories of the books in the library are
- Classical literature
These are the topics that would have been of interest to readers in the early 1700s. Both the layout and furnishings of the library -- including the dark oak bookcases, seats and shelves -- remain little changed from its present day. Also of interest are the cages -- rooms at the side of the building where visitors were locked in while reading one of the libraries more expensive titles, to prevent stealing.
Visiting the Library
Marsh's today operates as a visitor attraction rather than a modern library. A small fee is required to enter (FREE for children). Visitors are requested to take photos, to preserve the books, and also not to touch ancient books with their hands, without surgical gloves. When done visiting the library, your exit passes through a fine gift shop.