library ladder

Lust for a Rolling Library Ladder

By John Prince


Do you get online ads for things you’ll probably never buy, but you want to know all about them? Or you wish you had the need for them? Lust after them? Or, something like that?

I get ads every day from Rockler, the DIY woodworking people. Drills and jigs, cookies and cutters, along with lathes and computer-driven laser gizmos. I want all of them to make varying grades of sawdust along with axe handles, cigar boxes, table legs, and rolltop desks.

Today they had a sale: rolling library ladder hardware kits starting at $299.99.

I wanted to buy it immediately. Take my Visa card. Please!

The only problem is that I don’t have a library. But I always wanted a library: a whole room jammed with books on all sides with little step stools for the lower shelves, and a rolling ladder to reach those books on the top shelves. And tables and chairs piled high with falling towers of deathless prose. Poetry too. And an old brownish globe of the Earth.

In the movies and in books, library ladders have such a storied history.

Wizard kids in Harry Potter books and movies rolled around on them seeking out ancient tomes on arcane magic spells. Photos and paintings of great libraries at Oxford and the Vatican and St. Petersburg all have rolling ladders with scholars busily pursuing knowledge perched high atop them. In Atonement, Ian McEwan’s character, Robbie Turner, famously makes love to Cecilia Tallis as she stands on the steps of a library ladder. I recall movies (usually set in Europe or the UK) of people whizzing around the room on library ladders while singing and dancing.

There’s something rather grand about having a library large enough to require a rolling ladder. It means you’ve made it in the world. You’re a bona fide patron of the arts, literature in particular. Your books are not perfect-bound, soft cover, self-published novels about housemaids purchased from Amazon. No, your volumes are hard cover, gold-stamped, embossed, hand-sewn leather bindings that have been lovingly passed down through the generations from titled personages of yore.

“Oh, yes,” you say. “I have an original volume of the Latter Letters of Cicero translated by Sir Benjamin Chortle, MBE, OSD. Would you like to see it? Hang on, it’s up high, out of the reach of the children, of course. Let me just move the rolling ladder over here.” And you scramble up, scan the old gold embossed spines, and slowly, with a practiced forefinger, pick out the volume. Then the descent; holding the book nonchalantly, but securely, smiling faintly as you look at it, remembering misty long ago summer afternoons sipping Earl Gray with Uncle Ben in some plucky English garden.

I take another last look at the rolling library kit in the Rockler ad and hit “Delete.”

Next? A news item announcing that “Scientists Clone Endangered U.S Animal For The First Time.”

Wow! Startling! But I still yearn for a Bodleian-style library with a rolling ladder.

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