Book Review: The Library Book

The Library Book (2018)
Susan Orlean

On April 28, 1986, a massive fire at the Los Angeles Public Library consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. Investigators at the time ruled that the devastating fire had been set intentionally, and pointed the finger at enigmatic, aspiring actor Harry Peak. Decades later, speculation still surrounds the cause of the fire, along with who may or may not have been responsible for it.

Orlean’s research into the tragedy uncovers more than burn patterns and potential suspects. She weaves her narrative from the fire to the quirky cast of characters who have worked at the LAPL through the years to her own reflections on what libraries have meant to her personally. Orlean also provides a broader look at the role libraries have played within their communities throughout the world, both in the past and in the present.

Going behind the scenes at the LAPL and several other libraries, Orlean describes the various jobs held by the staff, from janitors to catalogers to youth librarians to branch directors. She interacts with patrons to get an in-depth look at why and how so many people are still using libraries—and the reasons are as diverse and unique as the patrons themselves. Orlean explores how libraries have evolved from silent, sacred places of learning to bustling community centers where all are welcome and children are encouraged to laugh and play.

The Library Book is a fascinating look at the importance and relevance of the pivotal role libraries play in society. It is a celebration of everything that makes libraries so wonderful—the books, of course (always the books), but also the people who work behind the desks and the patrons who line up outside each morning, waiting for the doors to unlock and for their libraries to welcome them with open arms.

Review by Shannon Bowring, Technical Services Coordinator

To request a copy, click here.

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