The Library Book
by Susan Orlean
Hardcover- $14.00



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  "the library book" by Carolynr (see profile) 11/10/18

sorry...could just not give it the high reviews others did....this was very slow moving for me and there was a lot I skimmed. however it IS an interesting history of libraries in general and what people go to libraries for. but that was only a small part of the book and the interesting part for me

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 01/15/19

  "" by Ljwagoner (see profile) 01/20/19

3.5??s. This is a look at the Los Angles Central Library fire of 1986. Orlean takes an in-depth look at the fire and the continuing mystery around its origin. This book also provides a reminder about the importance of libraries in our communities and how their presence and use is more that just a house for books. Libraries are a vital central location providing support and information for everyone.

  "" by Djbg1 (see profile) 02/05/19

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 02/11/19

  "Totally new insight into the workings of a library" by Homewithatwist (see profile) 02/28/19

Having loved going to the library as a child, I enjoyed all this book shared -- history, mystery, architecture, library science and how the library serves as not only a place of education, but refuge and connectedness regardless of your belief or social stature. Loved it!

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 03/10/19

Read this book then lend it!

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 03/10/19

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  "Very Boring Book" by LauraAdams (see profile) 12/14/19

I work in a library and was excited to read this book. Some of the information contained within the book was very informative but overall the book was unbelievable boring. Parts were torture to get through. I was very disappointed.

  "" by Jeanellerbe (see profile) 02/19/20

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  "" by skg14 (see profile) 06/11/20

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 07/01/20

Scattered. I was expecting more on the fire drama - but guess there wasn’t enough on that topic so it became a history of the LA Library system.

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 07/23/20

  "" by LER (see profile) 09/24/20

An interesting story yet a little draw out and at times overly detailed about tangential topics such as the challenges of fire investigations, history of the LA library system and its librarians.

  "" by annevogt (see profile) 09/14/21

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 09/24/21

  "" by [email protected] (see profile) 04/29/22

  "" by bibliosara (see profile) 10/10/22

Orlean explores a case of arson in this ode to libraries unlike anything you've read. Part investigative journalism, part homage to books, part historical sketch, the stories of Los Angeles' central library intertwine with the story of the suspected arsonist who caused one of the largest library fires in modern history. Beautifully written paragraphs describe everyday scenes that paint the heart of the Library are sprinkled amidst Orlean's interviews with former library directors, the suspect's family, library employees, and arson investigators. The solution to the crime isn't so important as the impact of the fire (and the library) itself. Although a nonfiction book, Orlean's writing sweeps readers away into a delectable world of intrigue, history, nostalgia, and hope. She captures the essence of libraries, their staff, and their patrons in a way that is honest and more poetic than prosaic.

  "without the politics, i would have liked it better." by thewanderingjew (see profile) 07/17/23

The Library Book, Susan Orlean, author and narrator
The Central Library in Los Angeles was built in the first quarter of the 20th century. The original design was Bertram Goodhue’s, but he never lived to see it completed. His associate, Carlton Winslow, saw to its completion in the mid 1920‘s. However, on April 29th,1986, the magnificent building, that had been the home to hundreds of thousands of books, magazines, newsreels and other records, suffered the worst possible event for a library. Suddenly, without warning, a fire suddenly raged through its stacks. There were no fire sprinklers in libraries because water was considered a greater danger than fire. There were no fire doors to prevent the spread of flames. The building was vulnerable; the loss was incalculable, but the event went largely unnoticed by the press. In 1986, greater tragedies overshadowed the library fire. The Challenger spaceship exploded killing all on board. The melt-down at the nuclear plant in Chernobyl threatened life as we know it. So, the library fire receded in our collective memory.
The author does an excellent job tracing the history of the building of this library and the changes that have taken place regarding its purpose and use. She investigates the cause of the fire. Was it an accident caused by carelessness, or an electrical failure or spontaneous combustion? Although she does not discover any major unknown piece of information, she reveals information that had not been general knowledge, previously. In the course of her extensive and lengthy research, she spoke to many who witnessed the fire, many fire experts, and those who knew the man accused of setting it, Harry Peak. The cause was never discovered and Peak was never charged or punished for setting the fire. He was described as just a man with a flair for telling stories, a man who was unhappy because he was gay, a man who desired his time in the spotlight, a frustrated actor.
As she unearths facts about the library fire, she exposes the total lack of women’s rights in the early days of the 20th century. Even after a very valiant effort, that dragged through the court system, women were not able to prove that the woman who had held the job of City Librarian, Mary Jones, was the more deserving and should not be fired from her position. Instead, she was unceremoniously dismissed. It was not for incompetence, but because she was a woman. She had to be replaced to make way for a man, a man who although not as well trained, or trained at all, was still deemed more reliable, more knowledgeable, and more capable to hold her job. That period of time was known as The Great Library War, which I had never heard of before. For approximately the next three decades, only a man would hold the position of the City Librarian.
The rich and famous, the educated and those who wanted to be educated, dignitaries and the homeless, and people from all walks of life visited the library and used its resources for research and meetings. Card catalogues were in use, since there was no technology available, until the late 20th century, that would put the information online and enable it to be stored in the memory of a computer. In 2015, the last library catalogue card was printed, officially ending the use of the card printed Dewey decimal system. Until then, the work of the librarian was very labor intensive and the librarian was counted on to do research for any and all who asked. I can remember calling the library with questions about subjects I knew nothing about, and the librarian happily explained how to go about discovering information, and actually did some of the searching for me, often inadvertently solving my problem. I can remember searching through card catalogues and looking at microfiche for information that I needed in order to satisfy requirements for my classes in college. It was time consuming and painstaking. I can remember looking at old newspapers and newsreels in the library, listening to speeches from the past by the likes of Winston Churchill and FDR, and studying for exams in the quiet, peaceful solitude of the space that was designed for and intentionally meant to provide exactly that atmosphere.
The description of the outstanding rescue and salvage effort that saved and restored so many books that could have been lost, was fascinating, as I learned that wet books were frozen to prevent mold spores and were kept that way for a couple of years until they could even be safely handled to see if they could be restored. Could they actually return to the library shelves? Would the Central Library ever reopen? As each of the chapters begins, the author reads from a sample of the cards in the catalogue, using the call numbers that referenced each book. She uses books that promote the themes in the book. For example, she happily referenced Oprah’s book selections and Obama’s memoir. She also referenced the McCarthy era, President Reagan and some right-wing justices in a decidedly different manner, and even joked about there ever being a Conservative librarian, exposing her own political viewpoint. As a conservative, I must object to that subtle affront, since I love libraries and books, especially for the purpose they were originally intended, to educate and entertain the public, to preserve and introduce ideas.
However, as the economy and social atmosphere in the country have changed, the library’s purpose has grown. It has become more of an arm of the government, as the need to promote and solve certain social issues turned into an organized effort. The library turned out to be the perfect venue for outreach programs and many were introduced. Today, there are programs to help immigrants to learn English, to adjust to life in their new home, and to find employment. Safe spaces exist for the homeless who use the bathrooms and space to keep warm and clean. There are rooms to register citizens to vote as well as rooms to hold meetings of all kinds to promote ideas of every kind.
Are libraries and librarians still the great research tool and fount of knowledge that they once were, or have they gone the way the experts in bookstores have gone, to the computer for the answers, rather than having them stored in their heads. Once, there was no question that a librarian could nor or would not try to answer. Today, instead, it seems to be there is no social program and need that a library does not attempt to serve and fulfill.
Most of the shelves of books have gone to make room for other things, and most of the information is online and available for easier access, even without the library. Thus, today, the librarian seems more like a part-time social worker. I appreciated the idea that Orlean presented about authors writing books so as not to be forgotten. It was something she realized as she witnessed her own mother’s suffering with dementia. I was reminded of the last conversation I had with a dying friend. She was so sad because she did not want to disappear and was afraid that she would, when she died, because essentially, she would cease to exist. The book was very nostalgic for me. I always loved and still do love the library. As a student, I loved studying there, meeting friends to work together there, doing research always learning new things there. It was a place in which to grow. Today, it is a wonderful resource for me, as my bookshelves overflow and online books are more and more available. Still, the printed book will always be the magic of my life.
The book made me wonder why people, especially those on the left and in the Democrat Party, who presume that they are the ones who love libraries and are against censorship, who are promoting the preservation of our history, are also the very same people who are supporting the cancel culture and the removal of statues in our present day. It seems like a contradiction of beliefs. Books are not enemies if they express conflicting ideas, and statues are not dangerous. They are tools with which to expand our knowledge, and we should use them to learn from our mistakes as well as our successes.
The book is filled with a great many tidbits about libraries, firefighting and arson, but it also exposed the many new uses of the library as they promote social programs. Libraries are no longer repositories of books and written material, but are now the home for innovative ideas and those who need to make use of them. In the library, the child hears inspiring stories, the homeless find sanctuary, the immigrant learns English, the high school dropout earns a diploma and more. Let’s hope, together, that neither fire nor politics will destroy books and our pursuit of knowledge.

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