Monday, November 11, 2019

The Library Book, by Susan Orlean

Simon & Schuster Audio, ISBN 9781508266488, October 2018

Susan Orlean gives us a wonderful study of one library and its history, the Los Angeles Public Library, centered around the disastrous 1986 fire at the library and the investigation into it. And she takes this, and uses it to showcase the role and significance of libraries in our modern lives.

Woven through all this is Orlean's own love of books, and what libraries meant, in her life, and her mother's, when she was growing up, with Depression-Era parents who loved books but were frugal.

She gives us the origins and growth of the LAPL. woven with the development of librarianship as a profession, the back-and-forth between men and women as the LAPL head librarian, and an up-and-down bumpy progression toward greater professionalism. The library starts in cramped space with just a few small rooms, moves to the bigger space in City Hall, and then to bigger and bigger rented space, two of them including rooftop gardens, before the city finally committed to building a main library in downtown LA, which in turn spawned branch libraries in every part of the city.

The growth and expansion of library services, the effects of the fire and its investigation, and the wider world of libraries, the protection of libraries, and the destruction of libraries in wartime and in cultural conflicts, all play a role in the story, here. Orlean beautifully details the different and often eccentric personalities involved, bringing wildly different strengths and contributions to the library. It's a fascinating picture of the growth of Los Angeles as well as the library.

This is a wonderful book, an excellent read or listen. Recommended.

I bought this audiobook.

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