I was going to write a post with a bit more about my current thinking around the Reading Room, but I went looking for my original post … only apparently I never got around to the first post on this topic. I’ve been talking about the Reading Room to be sure, but don’t seem to have posted something here specifically about the idea. Well. So, this follow up post is now the first post! FIRST POST! (*ahem*)
I’d like to, belatedly, introduce the Hermetic Library Reading Room, which, at least in conception, is far more than just a category on this blog featuring a series of posts and reviews about books and materials. And, this post is part of getting some of my thoughts sorted as well as sharing some of that thinking with you!
The idea for the Hermetic Library Reading Room is one of an imaginary and speculative future reification of the virtual library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition.
The Hermetic Library sits in many ways at an intersection of esoteric subject matter and modern technology, and I am always looking for ways to expand the collection of the Hermetic Library, and ways to further the overall mission of the library, that are both possible and sustainable.
At various times, as I’ve tried to imagine what activities would take the Hermetic Library into the next decade and beyond, beyond simply maintaining what currently exists, one of the various ideas I find myself coming back to again and again is developing what has been an amazing and valuable virtual resource into a real world library.
In thinking about the idea of developing an actual physical space, I’ve been imagining a place that would be a kind of esoteric reading room, inspired by famous library reading rooms which have played so large a part in the history of the development of modern occultism, especially during the pivotal period around the early 20th century, but also a space for wider use. I’ve sketched out the idea in my mind, and have imagined that this is something that I could make happen within the next 5 years, if things work well. Although, obviously, I’m still in the visioning phase of my own reification and imagineering process.
Developing a physical library could complement the overall mission of the library by offering an absolutely stunning and staggering array of emergent possibilities, including but certainly not limited to:
· Reference Section — Offering a physical and expanding collection of Hermetic Library books, journals, multimedia and other resources available for use by students and researchers
· Visiting Collections — Featuring temporary, visiting collections of books, arts, crafts and other cultural artifacts
· Esoteric Art Gallery — Showing the work of artists inspired by the Western Esoteric Tradition
· Cultural Series — Presenting public and private events which spread esoteric culture, including book signings and tours, guest lectures, music and dramatic shows, and more
In addition to a physical location, I’ve also thought a possible future goal for the recently announced Patreon campaign for the Hermetic Library could be to create a lending library reward for some supporters. What if at some level of reward, a supporter could request one from a selection of circulating books in the library catalog be lent to them for some period of time? This is something to certainly consider, and a way to be of service to people in a much larger area; but we’re not yet even close to achieving the first goal over there, let alone thinking about further goals.
What do you think? Send me an email with comments or questions. If you would like to help contribute to the development of an actual Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider becoming a Patron of the library, or donating materials such as books and other items to help build the physical collection.
If you are an author of esoteric or occult works, whether fiction or non-fiction, you might consider thinking of the Hermetic Library Reading Room as a sort of deposit library, a place where your published output can be systematically kept and made available, but preserved for the benefit of our shared heritage.
If you are a practitioner, you might consider thinking of the Hermetic Library as a place to bequeath your personal papers, books, artifacts, ephemera and more; to be held and preserved, and either made available or kept under set conditions.
Is your personal library overflowing with esoteric or occult books which you think are important parts of a library collection? Then, perhaps, you would consider donating those to the library.
Do you possess, or are you responsible for, a cornerstone collection of materials related to the subject matter of the library, an established collection perhaps in search of a permanent home? Consider getting in contact with the me to discuss whether there is a suitable synergy to meet our shared goals.
Are you someone involved with the creation of either historical or current esoterically oriented ‘zines or other periodicals? Perhaps you would consider including the library on your mailing or distribution list. You may also be interested in the Serapeion Project: Occult ‘Zine, Journal and Ephemera Preservation where I’d like to make an entry about your work, request permission to catalogue your issues, and perhaps permission to also preserve the presentation and contents of those issues similar to the Caduceus Archives at the library.
If you are a publisher, you might consider sending books to the Hermetic Library Reading Room for exposure to and possible review by students and researchers, as well as being available in the library catalog. Perhaps as time goes by there can be special arrangements made to acquire full back catalogs of your publishing output as well, either donated or perhaps by arranged purchase if ever I have an actual budget for such things.
Are you someone responsible for a library or other venue with an esoteric or occult focus? Perhaps you would consider getting in contact to let me know about you, your space and particulars about your mission and activities.
Anyhow, if you are any of these things, or something else entirely that I’ve not thought of, I can be notoriously quixotic about networking, but get in touch and at least let me know about yourself and what you do.
I do have to mention that the idea of this kind of physical space is not new, or unique.
Fenwick Rysen’s Chaos Matrix home page talked about creating a non-profit in order to develop an actual physical library, but after several years that news is no longer new or even there, so perhaps that is no longer a future goal for him, but it was for quite a while. I did try getting in contact once back in ’10 about the site, and have to admit that the stated goal there certainly must have been one influence on my thinking about developing a physical space.
There’s the New Alexandrian Library project at Sacred Wheel that was close to laying their physical foundation back in 2011, and is apparently still seeking funding for the project. So, maybe the foundation still hasn’t been laid, but they’ve got rather ambitious plans outlined.
However, there are several, and longstanding, physical libraries in actual existence. At one Esoteric Book Conference, I met a volunteer who reminded me about The Seattle Metaphysical Library.
There’s the Rogue Valley Metaphysical Library in Ashland, OR, which recently became the home of the George Roman Library as a cornerstone collection, a collection I found whilst researching the idea of cornerstone collections. Although the George Roman Library and Hermetic Library were not ultimately a good fit, I did have some nice conversations with the caretaker of that collection, so I’m glad it has found a suitable permanent home.
I once was a personal reference for a friend seeking access to the Lending Library of The Theosophical Society in Seattle, which resides behind Quest Bookshop, which was one of my frequented book shops back in the day.
Suffice to say that there are physical libraries dedicated to esoteric and occult materials out there that are more or less open to the public.
But, here’s a confession: while I used to more frequently, and less so now, visit a number of book shops, of all the physical esoteric libraries I’ve just mentioned, I’ve not actually been to any of them. That list would make an interesting itinerary, and maybe you’ve been to one or a few of them, or others. But, generally speaking, I’ve never had or felt the need to visit any of them, aside from a vague desire to experience them and see what’s there.
When I lived in Seattle as an adult, I had a kind of wicked polygon I’d travel sometimes as a walkabout that included Quest Bookshop along with East-West Books, Astrology et al., Edge of the Circle, Shorey’s Bookshop, and maybe some others I’ve forgotten to mention, where I’d go to see what was either new or interesting.
I did make the Library of Congress a stop on a tour of the East Coast I made a couple years ago, went through the process of being credentialed, and spend a few hours with the bound copies of The International that reside there; and that was a particular highlight, among others, of the trip for me. However, I didn’t get the chance to pilgrimage to the physical shop of Weiser Antiquarian though it was suggested as being definitely worth doing.
There are certainly also venues, not specifically libraries, out there. Most local bodies of Ordo Templi Orientis, for example, and no doubt other fraternal organizations, keep libraries for members with many useful and interesting resources. Also there are venues, such as the Observatory Room NYC, with many interesting esoteric events.
Perhaps if you’ve a favourite library, book shop or other venue, you’d be interested in letting me know about that, what it is that you enjoy about that space, and perhaps you’d even consider sending in a review of that location with a photo or two, which I might share with others?