Received opinion holds that it would be more efficient, hence more economical, to compress and thus dissolve the holdings of the Warburg Institute Library into an overarching university library system. This essay argues two points: first, that we should not be automatically persuaded by the popular and largely unexamined goal of efficiency; and second, that the Library indeed requires its own space but that that space must now be reconceived. In line with Aby Warburg's belief that the past should engage the present by expanding and refreshing it, the Warburg Institute Library's rare and singular collections are less about the books and more about the uniqueness of the content and what it does. This essay proposes that what makes the Library vital to today's networked epistemology is the insights that its volumes provide to the varieties of human ordering, organization, formatting, and categorization—visibly exhibited in the spatial arrangement of its holdings. As its users have long felt, the Warburg is more than a library: it is a complex physical space demonstrating the formal evolution or framing of human thought. The Warburg should thus be reconceived as a “house museum” (à la, perhaps, the Soane Museum in London) along these lines.
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Barbara Maria Stafford; RECONCEIVING THE WARBURG LIBRARY AS A WORKING MUSEUM OF THE MIND. Common Knowledge 1 January 2012; 18 (1): 180–187. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0961754X-1456971
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