An Abandoned Library

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Abandoned library, Russia
Abandoned library, Russia

An abandoned library wins the vote for Laura Bradley, and we celebrate with a gallery of some of our favourite forgotten places

The library stands as a byword for order, calm, quiet contemplation. Shoes muffled by carpets, voices quelled by stern shushes, excesses reserved for the dusty pages of the classics. Is this what makes this image of a Russian library in abandoned disarray so moving and bizarre? Books should be ordered by the Dewey Decimal system, not anarchically restyled into a papery ocean of knowledge. Who allowed this disorder to occur? There are many questions, and the answers can’t be found in the books. Surely it is the mix of the surreal and the sad that makes this image so arresting, and ultimately Love vote winning, for editor Laura Bradley.

Libraries are truly amazing. Their ambition – to house the ever-expanding parameters of human knowledge and history – was one of the first social endeavours. It is believed that the clay tablets of Sumer, dating from 2600BC, represent one of the very first iterations, and The Royal Library of Alexandria, founded in the 3rd century BC, was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Today, they are flagging. The internet is so instant and readily available, requiring no request slips or lengthy waiting for books to be dug out of the archives. Yet as funding fails, the romance lives on – in the face of increased and overwhelming digitisation, we all hark back to our memories of time spent scouring literal shelves rather than hypothetical Amazon ones, and images like this only serve to heighten the nostalgia.

So as we reminisce about the last time we battled with a library request form, Bradley tells us about her current obsession with abandoned places, alongside a gallery of some of the best from Loves.

Why did you love this library?
I've got a bit of an obsession with disused spaces at the moment. I'm fascinated by their aesthetic and their history. The books seem to bring life to the space, like Ai Weiwei's porcelain flower installation in the prisoners bathrooms of Alcatraz. 

Where would you like it to be, when you visited?
Mexico. And then I'd pop over to Frida Kahlo's garden in the afternoon. 

What would you wear for a trawl through the horizontal shelves?
A vintage painter's jacket. I reckon it'd be dirty work. 

What book would you like to rescue from the floor?
The Original of Laura by Vladimir Nabokov.

What's your favourite library?
The former Central Saint Martin's library at Charing Cross Road will always hold a special place in my heart. I spent hours there during my studies. I think I was one of the most regular users of the photocopier. The receptionists were always letting me off late fines. 

Who is your literary hero/heroine?
Henry Chinaski in Bukowski's Post Office. 

Which abandoned place would you like to bring back to life?
For years I was hoping the Mole Man house in De Beauvoir would be restored. Thankfully, it's now in the capable hands of Sue Webster, Tim Noble and David Adjaye. 

What are you looking forward to about winter?
Eating. Lots and lots of food. And layering. 

What was the last thing you bought?
An apple corer. I recently discovered apple seeds contain a small amount of cyanide.

Discover our list of the Top 10 Amazing Libraries here.