Chester Beatty Library

Michael Ryan


The Chester Beatty Library

The Clock Tower Building, Dublin Castle, Dublin 2, Ireland

Project: the relocation, and presentation of the Chester Beatty Library collections.

The Chester Beatty Library is a museum that houses the collection of Sir Alfred Chester Beatty which was established in Ireland in 1949 in a building in the suburbs of Dublin. It became a public body on the death of Chester Beatty in 1968. Owned by a Board of Trustees, it preserved a great collection of manuscripts, prints, miniature paintings, books, drawings and some decorative arts objects. Not well-known to the public, the move to a new home in the city centre (at Dublin Castle) was intended to create a new climate of public service by the institution. The move which was many years in planning was completed in 2000 with the official opening of the new Library. Visitor numbers have risen since then from c. 5000 per year in the old home to c. 120,000 in the current year.

The project required the complete re-equipping of the Library with state of the art storage for the collections, entirely new exhibitions, a new public reading room, a conservation laboratory, lecture room and public spaces. The project also required a great increase in staffing, the development of an education service, a shop and restaurant. Public programming was enhanced and for the first time in its history the Library's collections began to have a significant local impact. The collections are very famous for their biblical papyri, Turkish, Persian, Arabic and Mughal Indian illustrated and illuminated manuscripts, Chinese, Japanese, Burmese, Thai and other scrolls - many of exceptional quality and beauty - some of outstanding historical importance. The Library holds many works from Europe and Africa and a substantial collection of rare printed books. Ireland has become a multi-cultural society in the last ten years and the Library's development has struck a chord in the community.

Numerous problems of presentation had to be overcome - the material is mostly two-dimensional and much of it stems from societies which are unfamiliar to a western audience. It was necessary to solve the problem of setting things in context without overwhelming the visitor with text. This was achieved partly by the use of audio-visual programmes, multi-lingual leaflets, trained guides and increasingly by special publications and partly by careful use of audio-visual programming. Presentation is somewhat austere although rich colours are used. The collection was divided thematically to create two major exhibitions - one on religious traditions and the other on the art of the book, scroll, and print. The exhibitions are not encyclopaedic - for example, as there was little Jewish material, only an occasional presence of Judaica was possible. Decorative arts objects are limited in number


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