Libreria sells books. Want to surf the net or send a text on your cell phone while sipping a cup of the trendiest coffee-ish beverage and maybe do a bit of browsing? That’s not the culture at Libreria. Libreria is, after all, a bookshop. They sell books.
But, but, coffee!
Books. Libreria sells books. You remember books. They’re the papery flippy things full of words.
Images of Libreria reveal a beautifully appointed space that was made to entice customers to take their time and browse the shelves. While most bookshops follow a categorical system similar to what one might encounter in a library, Libreria tends to send readers down thematic rabbit holes. According to Cool Hunting‘s Cajsa Carlson, the shelves are arranged into more fluid categories such as “The Sea and the Sky” and “Mothers, Madonnas and Wh*res.” In conversation with Carlson about Libreria, Rohan Silva, who created the shop with partner Sam Aldenton, explained the reasoning behind the rather curious and yet very organic arrangement.
“I really believe that a key to being creative is to be open to ideas from different fields and different domains, and a physical bookshop is fantastic for that. Compare it with Amazon, where the recommendations based on algorithms are so narrow, so limiting—if you click on a book about physics, all you’ll get are recommendations for books about physics. Whereas in a physical bookshop, and with the way we’ve designed Libreria in particular, you might go in looking for a book on physics, but come out with three books of poetry by Seamus Heaney. And that’s the idea, the way it’s been designed—that’s the mission.”
In an interview with the Evening Standard, bookshop director Sally Davies concurred with Silva about Libreria’s unusual curatorial approach to the shelves’ arrangement.
“What we’re really trying to do is provide you with a place for discovering books you didn’t know you were looking for, as opposed to getting hold of a book you already know you want. We don’t see ourselves as a traditional bookshop. Libreria is a response to the digital age we live in, the feeling of being constantly connected, of being pulled every which way, but not being able to immerse yourself in things you’re interested in and not really knowing where to direct your attention.”
“Curating” is a word that has been abused and overused in recent years. Still, it is the word that best describes how Libreria is built from the bones out as a retail concept. Guest readers, celebrities from various fields, are invited to curate — yes, curate — shelves that give visitors insight a chance to see what titles move the minds of Martin Rees, Jeanette Winterson, Annie Lennox, and Stella McCartney.
While Libreria offers a haven from the distractions that barrel through our lives with an overload of data — if not insight — from the information superhighway, it is hardly a monastic chamber where breath and a cascade of dust motes tumbling through a shaft of light are the noisiest things in the room.
The bookshop hosts readings where passages of texts from diverse sources ranging from Raymond Carver to Oliver Sacks to Roald Dahl to Virginia Woolf serve as starters for robust discussions.
Music is there as well. It is not for sale on tables full of CDs or piped in from some tuneful Big Brotherish by-subscription concern. Libreria’s collection is all on vinyl and played on a turntable.
If Libreria’s very being, its coffee- and cell phone-free bookshop existence, feels like a throwback, it might be because the experience is couched in objects as catalysts. As evidenced by the efforts of companies like OverDrive, the internet can cast a wider net to people for whom access is sometimes problematic. They give the gift of access while generating an excitement for reading. Libreria’s novel approach compliments all that by asking us to slow down and appreciate craft of bookmaking and library building while relearning the fine art of the leisurely conversational stroll between readers and writers.
[Photo by Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images]