Simply walking into the Grande Bibliothèque in Montreal is a terrifically inspiring experience. The combination of soaring windows, reading nooks, and six floors to browse through is enough to get anyone excited about literature.
But one of the library’s greatest features is the basement exhibition space that has housed some truly terrific works in recent years.
Their latest undertaking, in celebration of the Grande Bibliothèque’s 10th anniversary, is called “La Bibliothèque, La Nuit” or, “The Library at Night,” and it is sheer magic from beginning to end.
Photo by Stéphane Bourgeois
Based on an essay of the same title by Argentinian-Canadian Alberto Manguel, the exhibit is brought to life by Robert LePage’s brilliant production company Ex Machina. You can get a glimpse of their beautiful work in the trailer (which is absolutely worth a watch, even if you can’t make it to the exhibit itself).
Beginning in a room modeled on the writer’s own library, you are treated to excerpts from Manguel’s lively text, animated by lighting and other effects. Simultaneously spooky and cozy, making you feel like an interloper and an invited guest, this recreated room perfectly conveys what Manguel’s essay is all about: that a library is both the deeply personal story of your life, as well as a window onto the story of the world.
Upon exiting the small room through what appears to be a secret passageway, you enter a forest of books. Trees made of texts, leaves of pages swirling overhead and on the ground. When people say that reading is like stepping into another world, this is that other world’s foyer. Its delightful anteroom. This is what my dreams look like.
A series of desks appears in the woods, each equipped with the classic green reading lamp and with a 360-degree video headset. Donning the headset enables you to visit 10 of the most spectacular libraries in creation – some real, some imaginary. My personal favorites were the Library of Alexandria, and Captain Nemo’s library aboard the Nautilus. This is way beyond clicking through photos of famous libraries on the internet. Sitting in a swivel chair, you can spin all the way around at your leisure, getting the full view of each room and taking in both everyday goings on and events of historic significance, from the destruction of the Bosnia-Herzegovina’s National and University Library in Sarajevo to a break-dancing troupe practicing outside the Biblioteca Vasconcelos in Mexico City.
It was, without a doubt, the most enchanting literary exhibit I’ve ever seen. An intelligent concept executed flawlessly. But most importantly, it captures that special feeling libraries give those of us who love books, and dramatically portrays their transportive power.
I highly recommend accompanying your visit with Manguel’s book, The Library at Night (2009). Even if you can’t make the exhibit, do pick up a copy. It is a moving history of libraries in their many incarnations from a passionate champion of books and reading.
The exhibit runs until the 28th of August 2016. More information and tickets are available at the BAnQ’s website. Or you can call this number: 514 873-1100.