Whether or not Mr. Joseph Undergraduate knows that the little balconies on the new Rare Book Library were inspired by 19th century Chinese Chippendale, or whatever he thinks about the take chimney and pseudo-balustrades skirting the roof, he will have no doubt, if curious enough to glance inside after the formal opening two months hence, that the building's interior looks as old as the ancient volumes it houses.
But trusting like everyone concerned, that mellow age and ivy will take the stern edge off the steel, bridge and vast expanses of specially-made brick interspersed with little round things, Joseph ventures to stick his inquisitive head into the entrance, on the side that bulges toward the Union.
Old Documents displayed
Passing by a well-lighted costroom on his left, he is greeted with the sight of old books and documents, especially those relating to the childhood years of Harvard, displayed, in cases around a pillared oval illuminated indirectly.
At this point, Joe wonders whether to explore the circular staircase ahead which seems to hang in mid-air, or to investigate the Exhibition Room on his left, or the Reading Room on his right. Choosing the former course, he encounters a souvenir stand where sight-seers might buy some postcards. Nearby is a warm-up kitchen for occasional tea parties.
Just now, in its semi-finished whiteness, the Exhibition Room looks quite cheerful, but since library officials say that light hurts, and eventually ruins books, the two windows will be shrouded with fine drapes, and the architects have omitted windows from the potentially sunny south side.
Here Joseph will see the ancient tomes brought out into bold relief by a most modern system of fluorescent tubes installed inside the glass doors of the cases.
Back through the oval hall, Joe can take his first look and probably his last, at the cork-lined reading room, for only those who are actually studying the old editions will use it. From the large central desk, the librarian in charge of the room can look all doors electrically so that potential book-lifters can be trapped.
On the three subterranean levels, one passes completely out of the period style of the upper rooms into the stacks, of the very latest design, which will accomodate the great majority of the present total of 10,000 books. Illuminated by blue tubular lights, the stacks are made to attract bequests from private collectors since a section of the shelves can be set off and made into a separate room devoted entirely, to one collection.
Humidity and temperture in the stacks are made to attract bequests are kept constant by a giant air-conditioning system which is installed on the ground floor of Widener. But even without this apparatus, the experts maintain that the thick insulation in the walls, of the building could alone keep conditions ideal for the most delicate volumes for three days.