Follow Here To Purchase The Meaning of the Library: A Cultural History

Editor: Alice Crawford

Publisher: Princeton University Press

ISBN: 978-0-691-16639-1

No matter whether you are a library user, or a library professional, you are bound to find something that satisfies your curiosity or that tweaks your interest in Alice Crawford’s collection of essays entitled The Meaning of the Library: A Cultural History.

Spanning a wide range of topics to do with libraries, the work is separated into three parts: The Library through Time; The Library in Imagination; and The Library Now and in the Future. Being both a librarian by profession and a cultural historian of sorts (by dint of having studied the Cultural History of Western Europe for three years at undergraduate level), I chose to home in on The Library in Imagination, and I was definitely not disappointed.

The wide grasp of the subject, and the depth of the insights, was astounding. From Marina Warner’s acknowledgement of the seminal value of the Epic of Gilgamesh, through Robert Crawford’s exploration of the librarian as ennobled and immortalized in poetry (and I can think of a number of librarians who would love to be so remembered), to Laura Marcus’s pursuit of the image of the haunted library and the library as labyrinth (with special focus, much to my delight, being paid to the library as presented in all its convolutions and Mediaeval ramifications in The Name of the Rose), the authors never fail to intrigue and enlighten. Not only are the contributors all experts in their field, but they are also such excellent writers that one can truly savor each word and sentence that they write.

Their rhapsodical descriptions embody the mystery that lies at the core of the library as phenomenon stretching down the ages. For instance, Warner draws attention to the “way of making [which] is important with regard to the library in fiction, viewed not only as a particular place where single titles or book-objects have been collected, but as a metaphor for literature itself, a polyphony of voices, laid down on multiple tracks, looping and converging over time, sometimes over great vistas of time”. In short, the richness and wealth of information that is embodied in library collections is brought only honor and memorableness in this text.

Whoever thought of a library as being a prosaic and stuffy old place that bears little relevance to the current digital age must definitely think again. Rounding off the work with an acknowledgement of the significance of libraries even in the modern day and age, given by Library of Congress James H. Billington, tribute is paid to the role of the library as a purveyor of knowledge that is geared towards satisfying mankind’s ongoing search for the truth. The Meaning of the Library: A Cultural History is a riveting and deeply satisfying work that is bound to leave the reader not only far more aware of the sociocultural importance of the institution as a reservoir of heritage and learning, but also inspired to think of issues that lie beyond the earthly and temporal realm.