What is the Value of Historic Libraries? Looking Afresh at the Bridgewater Library, a Jewel in The Huntington Crown
David Pearson, former director of culture, heritage, and libraries for the City of London Corporation, looks afresh at the Bridgewater Library, informed by recent work on 17th-century private libraries more broadly, with a view to teasing out its cultural value today.
The Bridgewater Library, the remains of an aristocratic English family library developed over several centuries, was bought by Henry E. Huntington for $1 million in 1917. Since then, it has been celebrated as a collection of English literature—although it contains much more—and its original owners would have looked at it differently. The books now in The Huntington's collection are only a part of what was once a larger whole, with a complex history. How should we approach such a library, and how do we appreciate it in the context of other contemporary collections? Are the values traditionally associated with it the right ones, in an age when so many of its texts are online, and notions around literary canons are increasingly questioned?
This is the Zeidberg Lecture in the History of the Book.