Libraries at Sea

Libraries at Sea

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Plush libraries were one of the things that made the great ocean liners great.

Back in the golden age, a superliner wasn’t super without a magnificently appointed place in which one could quietly read books and the ship’s daily newspaper.
 There are still a handful of fine libraries at sea. The best, without doubt, is the one aboard Queen Mary 2. I was lucky enough to spend a few days in QM2′s great library on a westbound crossing a few years ago, surrounded by wonderful books, fine wood, luxurious carpeting and sumptuous leather. Each morning, I would try to grab one of the deep club chairs at the library’s rear, which paradoxically faces ship’s bow. A good book, a comfy chair and a picture window view of a great liner’s bow plowing through the North Atlantic. Is there a better place to be? Not on this planet.

According to Cunard, QM2’s library holds approximately 8,400 English and 800 German book. The rest of 10,000 books are Japanese, Spanish, Italian and French.

Sadly, shipboard libraries are becoming an endangered species. Cruise line after cruise line has removed libraries, turning the space over to more profitable ventures. Actually, as a professional technology writer, I’m chagrined to admit that gadgets are helping to kill passenger interest in libraries. In fact, the very device that I’m writing this story on—an Apple iPad—is playing a major role in the near if not total demise of ship libraries. After all, why devote precious vessel space and resources to a library when passengers are increasingly likely to load their iPads, Kindles, and other ebook readers with best sellers, classics and other types of literary content before they even arrive at the pier?

I hope that perhaps some lines will keep at least a few libraries in their fleets. If these wonderful institutions vanish, I’ll miss scanning the shelves for the volumes contributed by line management, passengers, crew and even the occasional author. I’ll also miss the fine woods, comfy chairs and great view. And, most of all, I’ll miss another lost tradition.

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