This section is from the book "Modern Buildings, Their Planning, Construction And Equipment Vol6", by G. A. T. Middleton. Also available from Amazon: Modern Buildings.
In the reference department the chief consideration is the comfort of the reader, who will be engaged in a study of some subject which will need his entire and undiverted attention. This should be considered in the arrangement of the tables, so that he may not be unnecessarily disturbed by the cross traffic which certainly cannot be entirely dispensed with. The arrangement of book-shelves will be discussed in the lending department section, under the "Open Access" system, a general idea of which is obtained from a photograph of the interior of St. Deniol's Library (Gladstone Memorial), Hawarden, designed by Messrs. Douglas & Minshull, and shown at the bottom of Plate IV. In this plate it will be noticed that the return ends of bookcases are fitted as shelves. For these may be substituted a moulded wood panel, but it is merely a matter of taste, and both arrangements would accommodate the same number of volumes, as the space lost at end is gained on the side, and vice versa.
In many libraries provision has to be made for map rollers, worked on the same principle as ordinary house-blinds, several rollers being placed one above the other, and protected from dust by a wooden canopy. Valuable books are often preserved in glazed cases, so as to be kept under lock and key, whilst those of very special value are placed in a fireproof safe or strong-room, and only brought out when asked for. The arrangements depend on the status of the library under consideration. The reading-tables may be of ordinary design of 3 feet width and 2 feet 6 inches height, or may have a gentle slope like that shown in Fig. 109. In any case plenty of space has to be provided for each student. The British Museum gives approximately 4 feet 6 inches in length to each reader, which allows room for the use of several reference books and writing materials, forming in some cases a very large item. Cubicles have been recommended as giving a more complete isolation to the student, but it may be said, as a point against it, that the sphere of supervision is very much restricted, which is a serious matter where books of possibly unique value are liable to be used. A small table (Fig. 111), designed by the Library Supply Company,and adopted at St. Michael's College, Aberdeen, makes each reader independent of his neighbour. It is 2 feet 10 inches long, 2 feet 2 inches wide, and 2 feet 6 inches high, and is fitted with an ink-well, drawer, and extending slide, while an extra shelf may also be added for the holding of books of reference. A table based on this idea may with advantage be adopted, but an improvement could be effected by making it of longer dimensions in cases where the extra space would be obtainable. Where valuable books are often in demand a caution against injury is to pad the table tops. Economy of space and convenience to the reader is accomplished by providing some sort of book-rest, either movable or as a fixture to the table itself. Fig. 112 shows an illustration of the former occupying only 16 by 19 inches, which is simple and compact, folding perfectly flat. This rest arrangement can be incorporated in the table by means of a centre cupboard (see Fig. 113), which would occupy some 9 inches, making the total width of table 4 feet 6 inches to 5 feet. The panel in front of cupboard is bottom hung on a pair of butts, and fitted with a flush spring latch. On being opened this falls on to the table and exposes to view a rest, folded flat, which is raised to the angle desired by means of a wood or brass ratchet arrangement, fixed on either side of the baseboard. An improvement may further be obtained by making the rest to slide forward by means of a brass slot and adjusting screw.
This cupboard should be made to stand 18 inches above the table and be about 2 feet wide, or the full width of space devoted to reader if this is small. A width of 4 feet to 4 feet 6 inches would of course be excessive.
The tables used at the British Museum have a ventilation space provided in the centre of the cupboard, running lengthwise so as to form a hot-air inlet. The top is enclosed by a perforated grating. The cupboard enclosure is carried down to floor level. The front space of cupboard allotted to each reader is divided into three compartments. The centre one is open, and intended for pens, etc., and one of the side ones has merely a hinged flap made of a plate of metal covered with leather. The remaining compartment is more complicated. The door opens out on side hinges, and is double-actioned, being hinged in its centre, as is shown in Fig. 114 by a sketch and a diagrammatic plan. The forearm carries with it a rest, top hung and fixed to position by means of an iron ratchet and plate. The illustration gives the idea of this book-rest when in use, and may serve to explain the description, although the drawing may not be exactly correct as to its detail. To make everything complete, an electric or other reading lamp should be provided to each reader.
Where large folios are kept it is recommended that they be laid flat, as being the position in which there is the least strain. A useful contrivance is to make a low cupboard with its flat top at table level, so that it can be used for such purpose or for the exhibition of reviews, dictionaries, etc. As the withdrawal or putting away of large and heavy folios has a tendency to materially injure the binding, some system involving less friction will be advisable, if not essential. An arrangement used to overcome this is to screw to the side of cupboard a number of receivers, on which a loose wooden tray fitted with brass handles or knobs can be placed, so that the tray can be easily drawn out, the folio placed on it, and the whole run into the cupboard without the book incurring the least danger of being spoilt in the process. Another convenient arrangement is to provide a pair of indiarubber lined wood-rollers carried by metal pins running on metal plates fixed to each side of the cupboard. The book is run on these rollers, and certainly would suffer very little, but the former tray arrangement seems the more satisfactory, and the same space is required for both. A card catalogue cabinet would form part of the equipment. This system, which is explained later, has been adopted by the majority of reference libraries, whether it is in use or not in connection with the lending department. It is usually provided for the librarian's private use, and a printed " author " catalogue is placed at the disposal of readers. A second card catalogue can, with advantage, be supplied for public use, which will both serve the purpose of giving additions of recent date and also tends to facilitate the revision of the printed catalogue.