We’re all fairly familiar with the public library system and those vast depositories attached to universities, but there are other libraries that hide from public view: special collections, private subscription libraries, law libraries, remote stacks and libraries so unusual that they fail to be noticed due to their sheer implausibility. The Library Hotel in New York City, for instance is a sixty-room book-filled hotel with rooms arranged according to the Dewey Decimal Classification system. And then there is the Vaughn Williams Memorial Library, completely dedicated to folk music; the legendary deposits of pornography held by The British Library and The Oxford Bodleian; and the remarkable archive at BBC Scotland: a seemingly endless vault akin to one of those said to exist beneath the Pentagon, only filled with tapes of Balamory rather than bits of UFO and the lovely fluffy truth about Al Qaeda.
Perhaps one of the most notable libraries in terms of unusual content is the American Nudist Research Library. With over seven thousand magazines on the topics of naturism and the philosophy of nudity and a copy of almost every book printed on the subject, ANRL is a pretty exhaustive resource. It is based in the Cypress Cove Nudist Resort in Florida and has been around for an impressive twenty-six years. By email, I caught up with the library’s president and director, Helen Fisher:
How was the Nudist Library founded?
“Twenty six years ago a couple who lived in California (Jayne & Read Schuster) had a collection of nudist/naturist magazines and books which they needed to find space for. They were friends of [the couple] who owned Cypress Cove Nudist Resort. When offered room space, they shipped a huge number of boxes here. A group of Cove residents volunteered to help organize them. From that beginning the collection grew by donations and before long needed more space. A small building was set up for the library and it was staffed, and still is today, completely by volunteers. Eight or nine years ago, having outgrown the building, an addition was made which doubled the building size and which we are now rapidly filling.”
Do your librarians go naked while at work?
“Ordinarily, the librarians are dressed since we have visiting outsiders who are not members of Cypress Cove and they feel more at ease if we are mostly dressed. The librarians are free to dress as they please. The visiting outsiders make arrangements ahead of their visit so they are admitted through the front gate. They come directly to the library and cannot visit other parts of the park.”
How is the library perceived by the locals? There are some who might think your subject matter was a little controversial. Do you get along?
“Yes, we are welcomed by the locals. Dean Hadley and Ted Hadley, son and grandson of the resort’s owners are members of local town organizations, including the Chamber of Commerce. Once or twice a year, the Chamber visits the Cove for meetings and tours for new members.”
Who can access your stuff? Do you have to be a member to get in?
“Our materials are available to anyone visiting the library and this includes nudists who are visiting the Cove, although nothing can be taken out of the library. Since everything has been donated and much of the older material is getting fragile, we keep control of handling. Also, we now have about 450 nudist / naturist videos / DVD’s which can be watched in the library.”
It is how the librarians are described as “mostly dressed” that fascinates me. I wonder if that means you get the occasional naked librarian or that they’re all partially naked. Either way, the idea of a Nudist library is marvellous: it is a symbol of how libraries can be relaxed and leisurely places while working to combat censorship and to stand guard over the world’s knowledge, no matter how specialised or obscure.