Saturday, December 03, 2005

Library: An Unquiet History by Matthew Battles

I am a bit surprised by Library: An Unquiet History by Matthew Battles. The author writes a well balanced history until he reaches the twentieth century, including many of the main developments in the concept of the library. Libraries in ancient Alexandria, ancient China, Jewish synagogues, mosques, medieval monasteries, the early universities, and the Vatican lead to the British Library, Library of Congress, and the libraries at Harvard. Then the story departs from what I expected.

I admit that Battles tells about many fires, much looting, and use of libraries to control society through the centuries. I did not expect that would be his focus for the twentieth century. His recent history sections cover Nazi book burnings, the exclusion of Africa-Americans from libraries in the Deep South, and the systematic destruction of libraries by Serbian forces in breakup of Yugoslavia. He says little about modern library methods, new developments in books and media, or the spread of libraries to smaller communities until his final passages. If the book had not pre-dated Hurricane Katrina, I am sure its destroying of libraries could have been the final story.

Still, he tells fascinating stories. His point seems to be that we should never imagine that the libraries we build will last very long.

Battles, Matthew. Library: An Unquiet History. New York: W. W. Norton, 2003. ISBN 0393020290

On 6 Compact Discs. Santa Ana, California: Books on Tape, 2003. ISBN 0736698353

1 comment:

ChrisWoznitza said...

Hi I´m Chris. Greatings from Germany Bottrop !!