Mackintosh Library Memories II

A series of posts capturing memories of the Mackintosh Library from academics, researchers and readers.


Helena Britt
Lecturer in Fashion and Textiles

Can you remember your first time coming into the Mackintosh Library and what impressions it left on you?

I believe that my first visit to the Mackintosh Library was during a Saturday morning tour of the Mackintosh Building in 2001, just after I had enrolled as a PhD student at GSA. The tour guide described Mackintosh’s vision for the space and the rationale behind its design, use of light and materials. As a visitor, I remember being in awe after entering through the double doors at the end of the corridor to find the Library stretching upwards towards the top of the west wing of the Mackintosh Building. The darkness of the wooden interior contrasted with the light coming from the expansive windows, the spectacular cluster of lights hanging in the centre of the room and bright flecks of red, white, blue and green painted wood from the carved balcony banisters. There was a real urge to open up the glass-fronted cabinets and search through the volumes stacked upon the shelves.

What is your most abiding memory of the Mackintosh Library?

Last year I was fortunate to be trusted with keys to the Library whenever access was required, due to the need to use the space while setting up and taking down the exhibition Interwoven Connections in the Mackintosh Museum. The exhibition centred on one of GSA’s Special Collections, the Stoddard Design Library, that is held in GSA’s main Library. The Stoddard Design Library is an extensive collection featuring some 670 volumes. Prior to the exhibition opening I worked in the Mackintosh Library with Duncan Chappell (Academic Liaison Librarian) and Delphine Dallison (SCONUL Graduate Trainee Librarian) to prepare for installation. While Duncan and Delphine used the tables in the Library to locate, extract and catalogue items from volumes that were to be displayed in the exhibition, I continued to finalise the exhibition layout and content, covering the floor with printouts, photographs, exhibition text, labels and my laptop. I made a real mess, although I like to think of it as organised chaos! My abiding memory of the Mackintosh Library would have to be how special it felt to be so privileged to work in such an amazing space; in my opinion, the most beautiful library that has ever existed. During that time, I was manic and had so much to do, but when I stopped, looked and thought, the Library space had the most calming affect.

What was your favourite item in the collection?

I don’t really have a favourite item in the collection but favorite parts of the Library, in particular the Librarian’s Office located next to the stairs that lead up to the balcony. The office is a small room with small windows giving views over the city. The wooden interior of this space was custom made featuring compact shelving units, a desk with purpose built racks to organise books and paperwork. It was easy to imagine Librarians of the past keeping a watchful eye over the students working in the Library looking out from the internal windows of the office. Another favorite is the double-sided periodicals desk situated in the middle of the Library, purpose built for displaying and reading publications. Written in ink on a piece of card in the centre on one side of the desk was a sign that stated ‘PERIODICALS are not to be removed from this room’. This item of Mackintosh furniture was so unique that it had ceased to be used to ensure its preservation. It is still unbelievable to think that this unique item of furniture and its sign, a reminder of the workings of the Library from the past, are gone.

How did you make use of the Mackintosh Library in your learning, teaching or research?

As previously explained, I used the Mackintosh Library for installation preparation and take down for the Interwoven Connections exhibition in November 2013 and January 2014. When giving talks or workshops in the Mackintosh Museum the Librarian’s Office was used as a space to leave my belongings and on occasion I actually used it as an office! Also, as part of the Fashion & Textiles curriculum at GSA, we often integrate the viewing of items from Archives & Collections into projects. The most recent third year induction involved viewing lace items from GSA’s archive in the Mackintosh Library, this space was used instead of the Archives & Collections Centre. There was something special about rolling out, viewing and discussing items with Susannah Waters (Archivist) and the third year group within the Library space; this made viewing these unique textile items even more exceptional. If I had had any idea that this would be my last time in the Library I would have taken a lot more photographs.


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