This week we’re looking at a seemingly comprehensive and dense yet readable history of the idea of the library and its various incarnations throughout human history. This week, we’re looking at The Library by Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen.
Comprehensive History. This is a fairly dense (yet readable) comprehensive history of humanity’s efforts to store its written words. We begin all the way back in ancient Mesopotamia with some discussion of even their clay tablets, and we come all the way through the digital and eReader era (which the authors are a bit more pessimistic about than this reader, who is admittedly a technologist). While other areas such as China, Africa, India, (modern) Australia, and Columbian era Middle America are mentioned at times, the vast majority of the focus of the discussion here is Euro-centric, with detailed discussions of American library systems once the discussion advances to the relevant time periods. Indeed, as it turns out, the “modern public library” as Americans know it today? Did not exist prior to WWII in any real form at all, though through the efforts of business titans such as Andrew Carnegie (discussed in much depth here in the text), the earlier forms of it were beginning by the late 19th century. Truly a fascinating book, but also truly a very long one. Anyone remotely interested in books and reading should probably at least consider reading this, as it really is a remarkable history of the book, its uses, and its storage. Very much recommended.