Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Library: an Illustrated History

Of the 123,000 libraries in the U.S., almost 100,000 are in public schools. Libraries have been around since ancient civilizations, but in the U.S. libraries have been supported and increased as a result of peaceful times, philanthropists, democratic ideals and more. The rise of the middle class in America meant demands for education and knowledge and libraries were interwoven into existing democratic ideals. It was believed that freedom of thought and the ability to think for oneself was necessary in a democratic society made up of educated, informed citizens. In his book, The Library: an Illustrated History, Stuart Murphy looks at libraries from ancient Mesopotamia to modern times.   He examines libraries in the East and West in this beautifully illustrated book full of information about fascinating people and anecdotes. Many funny and interesting stories make this book easy-to-read from the book-cursing scribes to Mark Twain's hysterical and witty comment to the librarian that requested him to defend his offensive book, Huckleberry Finn. He told her to put it next to the equally violent and offensive book, The Bible.

I'm not sure if anyone would find this book interesting except book lovers, book collectors, and librarians. Maybe an English teacher because libraries are linked with world literature. The last chapter is on famous libraries all over the world. I always drag my husband into libraries when we travel so I particularly liked this section. The book doesn't go into great depth but gives an overview. This made me want to read up on some of the famous people in history that ruled countries.

I did have problems with the author jumping forward and backwards in history with the narration. The book is not chronological and for my random brain I got lost as to where I was in time. In one chapter they were talking about the Boston Town Library from 1800-1850's and then at the end they wrote about the first public library in 1653. It would have been better to place the information on the first public library at the beginning of the chapter. Maybe the author used an unorganized timeline to be funny. The majority of librarians tend to be obsessive about organization.

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