The Library Book by Susan Orlean

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

How can a book about the library be expected to hold our interest? Well, the main focus of this book is one particular library, the Los Angeles Public Library which famously almost burned to the ground in 1986, but it is really about much more. This book describes the long line of librarians who have played the leading role in this particular institution dating back to the 19th Century and forward to the modern age. As is often the case when discussing edifices where great things have happened, the architecture and the architects who created them are also very much a part of the story. The book also discusses the antagonism towards libraries by dictators and oppressive regimes throughout the ages characterized but not limited to the book burning by the Nazis.

The author obviously spent years compiling this book and shares with the reader her many hours of discussion with the people who work and serve in the library. It becomes clear that working in a library has been a calling for most of them and a dedication of skilled men and women who proudly wear the title librarian.

As the author travels through the halls of the library, we see how the function of a library is not only the presentation and the sharing of all types of books, but that the library also is a font of knowledge with availability of art, historical documents, patents, music and much more. As we travel through this building, we also appreciate that many of the daily inhabitants of the library are people of all ages; the elderly, children, scholars, students, artists, immigrants, etc. We see that the library is and can, not only be a place of obtaining special knowledge and education, but a place for social programs and creative, innovative activities. It is also interesting to see that the library is also often a refuge for the homeless.

In the past, the library became known as a place where one could visit and ask a dedicated staff to direct him or her to a source where they can get any type of information and answer any specific question. In fact, the library has always provided a phone service where you could call in and get an answer to the most unique or mundane question. Therefore, now that we are in the age of the computer, with Google, Alexa, and Siri, etc., where one can ask your own personal device any question and get an answer, one might think that the library should become an institution of the past. Interestingly enough, however, it appears that libraries are reinventing themselves and are becoming more popular than ever. Not only do the libraries, through the work of the dedicated librarian staff, assist people, how to reach and query the Internet about anything but they provide access to the most up-to-date equipment and technique for the use of everyone including the poor, the homeless, the elderly, children, everyone, et cetera. The library offers classes where people can be educated how to use these modern techniques. And of course, the library can also be a social meeting place. And most important, the library now is on the cutting edge of all forms of knowledge, history and communication. This book is an eye-opener that shows a library of the past, the present and the future.

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