I insist that I can recall the smell of the Galashiels Public Library, or the College Library fifty years ago. Of course the beauty of one’s confidence in such memories is that nobody can deny or confirm whether they are or are not accurate. If I think it’s a madeleine, it’s a madeleine, whether what I think is correct or not. It’s completely un-contradictable.

Apparently however the Morgan Library is running a research project into exactly how the library would have smelled back in 1906. Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Library’s blog has a story about the project.

One has to be impressed by the bent paperclip’s research role in Christine Nelson’s photo of the smell sampling equipment at work at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York on Ihesus: The Floure of the Commaundementes of God, printed in London by Wyken de Worde (1521). As Hyperallergic tells it, “Nelson [curator of literary and historical manuscripts at the Morgan] and a group of students from the Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP), who gathered in the Morgan’s conservation lab, were deeply inhaling the scents of a selection of old books to consider what the place may have smelled like way back in 1906, the year that John Pierpont Morgan’s stately McKim, Mead and White-designed library was completed.”

“And whether or not the windows were open in J. P. Morgan’s day was on the mind of Jorge Otero-Pailos, who is teaching this experimental historic preservation class. Street smells from Gilded Age New York could have wafted through the windows, mingling with the collection of rare tomes from across various eras, and the cigar puffing of Morgan himself. ‘I try to get students to rethink how we can preserve objects in a creative way that reengages people with those objects,” he said. Last year at Westminster Hall in London’s Palace of Westminster, his The Ethics of Dust” installation involved a latex cast of one wall, a process that lifted visible and invisible dust and dirt from the old structure.'”

If one can eventually get at the smell of the Morgan in 1906, how much will that tell us about Galashiels Public Library in 1958 of course? Still, it’d be interesting to see how much one would be willing to accept the smell as “right”.