A Meditation on Book Displays

One of the roles of the American scholars at the library is to arrange books attractively on shelves or on top of shelves. Book Displays, in other words. We change the displays frequently to suit special events or our own wacky energies. And over the year I’ve accumulated a little wisdom on the subject — moving perhaps towards a kind of philosophy — whose expression is the topic of this post.

Book displays are mandalas

What is the point of a book display? It may strike you as cruel or tragic — you will see why in a moment — but a successful book display is more like the sand mandala of the Tibetan Buddhism than, say, the Eiffel Tower.

The detail is extraordinary and delightful.

The detail is extraordinary and delightful.

Perhaps you have seen the monks creating their beautiful mandalas. They sit hunched over a large, flat disc, rubbing tapered tubes (called chak-pur) with metal rods while the coloured sand trickles out — layer by layer, grain by tiny grain — in geometric designs of incredible intricacy. A lot of careful work goes into it over several weeks, but the result is stunning. Mandalas do not last, however. Once the monks have finished placing each grain of sand, they gently lift the disc, carry it to the nearest river or lake or ocean, and tip all the sand into the water. Good blessings!

I think of book displays as fulfilling similar purposes to the sand mandala. “According to Buddhist scripture,” writes the BBC, “mandalas constructed from sand transmit positive energies to the environment and to the people who view them.” So with book displays. “They are believed to effect purification and healing.” So with book displays. “There are many different designs of mandala, each with different lessons to teach.”

And a successful display shares the same fate as the mandala: it is, to use the Tibetan term, “deconstructed”. That is, the books, which have been carefully selected and placed just so by you, are taken up by the tide of library patrons and dispersed to the seven seas. Good blessings and positive energies!

Everything in life is transitory.

Positive-energy book displays; or, fostering deconstruction

Now about this philosophy of mine. Book displays may take different forms and within these forms there are, of course, “different lessons to teach”. In this series of posts I present a gallery of types, which will serve as an illustrative overview of the Genus (if you will) Displaius libraratus.

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Filed under Books, Memorial Library

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