The Library Book

The Library Book

Book - 2018 | First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition
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Aug 15, 2020

A love letter to all libraries and the wonderful people who work in them.
One cannot overestimate their value to the community.

Aug 13, 2020

Very enjoyable read. Orlean is a great storyteller, and I liked how the story expanded to explore interesting asides about the history of libraries and the people who appreciate them. I couldn't stop telling people around me cool tidbits I learned from this book!

IndyPL_ShainaS Jun 19, 2020

I love how Orlean's conversational voice draws the reader in. Her love for libraries and stories and history is compelling, and a reflection of my own love. It's a strange main tale to be sure, of a devastating library fire and the enigmatic compulsive liar who possibly set it, woven around a series of vignettes about the many aspects of library service. Some of Orlean's musings felt like a strike to my heart; others felt a little flat or unfinished. Overall, I think Orlean did a lovely job of conveying the power of libraries and how they'll be around for as long as people wish to hold onto stories.

Jun 15, 2020

What a treat! Have been able to spend the time at home with "The Library Book". Have been following up on Charles F. Lummis one of the more colorful librarians. Reading his "A Tramp across the Continent" . He walked for 143 days from Cincinnati to Los Angeles starting in sept 11, 1884. Hope the book and I survive the corona virus.

A book to read while I was missing the library during the shutdown. Lots of different threads here and they didn't all tie up at the end and, while I don't care as much about the LA library as someone living there, I appreciated the general reflection on the history and value of libraries in society.

Jun 06, 2020

For December 17, Tri Delta

Jun 01, 2020

I listened to the audiobook on RB Digital. The use of the Los Angelos Central Library fire was a great way to tell the story of libraries and their role in communities. Interspersed between the fire, arson investigation, and trial, are stories about how a book burns, how a library is created, the library as a community hub, the future of libraries, and other stories.
I enjoyed it. It was a good choice while waiting for our library to reopen during this CoVid pandemic.

May 15, 2020

Not very good about a LA Library fire - DNF

May 12, 2020

I thoroughly enjoyed the mix of Los Angeles Central Library history, speculating as to how the fire started and whether or not Harry Peak had anything to do with, and the amazing description of the fire itself. The amount of research, interviewing, and personal interest in libraries and their patrons' behavior was entertaining and enlightening. Central Library as with other aspects of Los Angeles is unique and captivating. If you have any interest at all in books or libraries, you should read this book.

May 10, 2020

My wife read and loved this book; we discussed her progress daily. I'm an aficionado of the original architect and know the architect who did the restoration and addition. Can vividly remember the first time coming across the pre-fire Central Library, at night, just around the corner from my hotel: it was stunning, way exotic even by LA standards. And even better as restored, if you can somehow overlook the loss of hundreds of thousands of books, many of them irreplaceable documents of early Southland history. If you care about libraries -- and why would you be reading a library string otherwise? -- you will likely find this a valuable read.

Mar 04, 2020

I think it would have been a great book without so much focus on the LA library fire...

Feb 17, 2020

In 1986 there was a fire that lost 400,000 books and damaged 750,000 more, and few people heard about it outside of the Library world and Los Angeles because it happened the same day as Chernobyl. Where the event would have been shocking for a country on any other day, it was relegated to a back page of the newspaper, an event of little note. The Library Book is more than just a look at this fire, it's an ode to where libraries started and what they've become in your communities. Where they started as fairly exclusive places for people with means to borrow books, libraries are now one of the only places that anyone can come and sit without being disturbed as long as they follow a few basic rules of decorum.

While the impetus of the book was hearing about the fire and investigating the cause, Orlean comes to no satisfactory conclusion about it. Where many blame it on the enigmatic Harry Peak, who alternately claims to have set the fire and to have been having lunch when the fire started, Orlean comes to the conclusion that there is no satisfactory conclusion to be made.

Where fire investigators at the time felt they had strong circumstantial evidence that Peak was to blame, modern fire science lays most of their claims to the side as unsupported. As a reader I was certainly led to believe that Peak did start the fire, but enough questions remain that it's hard to say with any certainty that he should bear the brunt of any punishment for the blaze.

Woven through this narrative on what started the fire, is an ode to books and the places that libraries hold in society. Orlean talks about the book containing a living soul[^Page 56] and her youthful experience on library visits with her mother. Her words bring the emotion into the soul of the reader.

She also eloquently talks about what a library has become from it roots as a fairly exclusive club where you could borrow books. Today a library is a place for books, but it's also a place for the homeless to sit out of the rain and not be disturbed if they can follow a few rules of decorum. It's a place where you can get some computer skills, and free access to a computer for a time in your day. In my library, and many, it's a place where you can't cross the road to avoid some of the problems that society has today.

“Every problem that society has, the library has too, because the boundary between society and the library is porous; nothing good is kept out of the library, and nothing bad. often, at the library, societies problems are magnified. Homelessness and drug use and mental illness are problems you see in every public place in Los Angeles. One difference is that if you see a mentally ill person on the street, you can cross to the other side. In a library, you share a smaller and more intimate space. The communal nature of a library is the very essence of the library, in the shared desks and shared books and shared restrooms.” [^Page 244]

While addressing the problems that libraries face, she also shows the hearts of the librarians and staff she encountered. From the newest librarian in the children's department to the person managing the deep catalogue of history to the head of security, every single person saw the problems and tried to help people with problems get access to the public space as often as possible.

She also sees a future for the library[^Which is in contrast to the conclusions you'd draw after reading iGen and the thoughts on books there], not only as a repository for books and knowledge that can't be found online[^289], but as a place of work for a generation that is less likely to have an office job. I know I find myself working in my local library regularly because it is free and the wifi is acceptable[^If only barely].

## Should You Read The Library Book?

All in all, The Library Book is a book worth your time. From the investigation of the fire for those that like some history, to the love of libraries reading and books, many will enjoy the story tol

Jan 20, 2020

Terrific book so long as you don't expect a true crime book. This is a book about libraries, and a good one, the crime is kind of secondary.

Jan 11, 2020

Wonderful book. Read it- do not listen as she has a dreadful voice.

JCLEricaV Dec 05, 2019

The heartbreaking story of the Los Angeles Public Library Fire in 1986. The story of the fire is horrifying. Wound between chapters about the fire and the Library’s recovery are stories of past and present librarians at the LA Public Library and a bit of history into the LA Public Library (which felt a bit long at times), and a lay persons view of the library. I was so taken with her descriptions of the library today and the issues facing the library. This is a great book for educating the public about public librarians and the work we do. We don’t just read books all day, except to prepare for storytime or for a program. I feel truly proud to call myself a librarian after reading this book!

FPL_AdamL Dec 05, 2019

An engaging unsolved mystery full of some wild personalities. I fully recommend the audiobook version!

Dec 04, 2019

A wonderfully intriguing read that starts off as a mystery but really is an ode to public libraries and the folks that work within it. This book will be a compelling read for those who work within the industry or naturally love to share books. This book will also be an eye-opener to those who think libraries are of the past. The Library Book elegantly shows the interworking of a librarian's job, and the social context of the role. For anyone who has been to or used a public library in the past, this book will have an air of familiarity even if you have never step foot in LA's Central library.

Dec 04, 2019

This book is a love story to not only the Los Angeles Public Library, but a love story to all libraries. The books goes through the history of the LAPL, as well as follows what happened following the devastating fire that destroyed thousands of books and other collections held at the library. The author interviewed employees from all departments of the library to find out how they were affected by the fire and the rebuild after.

Nov 04, 2019

Fascinating! Unless you’re a plumber, equestrienne, sous chef, endocrinologist or astronaut; then, not so much.

Oct 26, 2019

I loved this book! It was fascinating to learn about the 1986 fire of the Los Angeles Public Library. AND, which I loved even more, I enjoyed reading about the history of libraries and this one specifically! Wonderful non-fiction book!

Oct 18, 2019

I am not sure how I came across this book, but the story peaked my interest. What I read was a lot more than I had imagined. If you are at all interested in libraries, this book will enlighten and edify you, and is highly recommended. Don't get me wrong, this is not a story about libraries, it is the story about the largest fire to a library in the U.S. and the investigation of that fire, suspected to arson.

Susan Orlean conducts a in-depth and thorough review of the fire, the investigation, the suspect, and all the aspects surrounding the fire. What really made it interesting, was hearing the first hand accounts of the library staff. These were dedicated librarians whose livelihood and their profession were turned upside down because of the fire. Hearing their personal reflections and feelings added so much depth and interest to the fire. Everyday, we hear about some type of tragic incident, but only the facts of that incident. Hearing the first hand accounts, before, during, and after the fire of these librarians, added so much humanity to what would otherwise just be another tragic incident.

Interwoven between the account of the fire, the investigation, and the rebuilding of the library, are mostly accounts of how the "Central Library" in downtown Los Angeles, came into being, how it grew, the head librarians were over the years, the goals, ambitions, projects, etc., of the library (as well as other libraries) were and how they implemented them, as well as every other facet of any library system, is presented in between the main story.

This interweaving of the history of the Central Library and operations of the library, were quite interesting, but at times a bit tiresome and distracting. I felt at times that you suddenly jumped tracks at critical points of the real story to jump back in time about its past and development, only to circle around again, and resume the investigation.

I will have to say that Susan Orlean did a wonderful job of blending the history as well as the investigation into one story line, but as stated above, the history was at times: distracting.

The depth of her research was noticeable, as well as her personal dedication, which rings out during the course of the whole story. Her admiration and respect for libraries and librarians cries out loud and clear, and I did like her optimism for the future of libraries.

I have deep respect for libraries, what they bring to communities, and firmly believe that every community, no matter how large or small should have a library, it is the center of a life long learning as well as path to stories and imaginary fantasies for all to experience and grow. Because of this respect, I will have to say, that I was very sorrowful deep inside as I read about the day the fire nearly burned down the library and over 400,000 books and other materials disappeared forever. That tragedy was so well described, it could not do anything but grab you as to the enormous loss that was suffered that day. But it was also wonderful to learn about and see people galvanize and engage in rebuilding the library and bringing that desire to a wondrous conclusion.

You can't help to enjoy this book, respect the research and dedication of Susan Orlean, and the world of books and libraries. This book is a capsule of all of that and an enjoyable, edifying, and touching read.

RandomLibrarian Oct 17, 2019

I enjoyed this book immensely. It works as a library history, a love letter to libraries, and as a true crime investigation of the LAPL fire in the 80s. The book itself is beautifully designed, too!

Lord_Vad3r Oct 16, 2019

I loved this book.

I don’t buy physical copies of books often but I will buy this one.

Once upon a time I was going to be a writer and voracious reading was always a part of that. Yes, I was one of those weird kids that looked forward to book report day with relish. The problem with writing as a career path is that most people don’t become an overnight sensation. And in the meantime, there are bills to pay.

Life happens too. You find yourself re-evaluating not only the world but your place in it. I tried a number of different occupations as I found my way, but somehow the library didn’t present itself as a viable choice right away. By some twist of fate I sort of fell backwards into it.

There had been several positions posted through the city government’s website and I applied for a number of them from the entry level up through the paraprofessional and then forgot about it. At the time I was working days at Walgreens’ and evenings at a bingo parlour (another place Susan Orlean should look for stories). So much time passed between my application and the call for an interview that I did, literally, forget that I had applied and what I had applied for. I ended up at the reference desk in the busiest branch in the city. And I discovered that I loved the library. I enjoyed helping people and teaching people who wanted to learn.

I moved from part time to full time and enrolled in library school and. . . graduated in December 2008 right when the economy tanked. I was fortunate, however. I had a full time job in a library when many of my classmates didn’t. It was three years before I could move into a professional position.

It’s been 14 years. I’ve made mistakes but I consider the people I’ve worked with family and I don’t regret it. I look forward to helping the library remain a vital part of my city, to look to the future while still preserving its core function.

Orlean’s book traces the history of the Los Angeles library system, arson and book burning, and many of the innovative directors that continued to move the library forward through the years and numerous struggles. And the more you read, the more you realize that despite time and distance, we really are the same. All of this is illustrated beautifully by Susan Orlean. Harry Peak is the type of character that it would be easy to demonize but Orlean defies that urge and treats him more as a tragic character, which of course, he is. For my part, I believe he probably was at the scene and just couldn’t resist making his role in the fire bigger than it was.

I am adding the Goodhue building to the list of places I need to visit and I can’t wait to see it.

IndyPL_SteveB Oct 01, 2019

A fine non-fiction love letter to libraries by the best-selling author of *The Orchid Thief* and other books. This is also a true detective story focused on a disaster – the 1986 fire that destroyed a large part of the collection of the Los Angeles Public Library’s Central Library. You may not remember much about that event; it didn’t receive as much national publicity as you would expect, because it happened on the same day as the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown in the Soviet Union.

Orlean jumps back and forth on several levels:
-- The story of the fire itself and the library’s recovery.
-- The history of the Los Angeles Public Library including how the LAPL operates today.
-- Her own life experiences in libraries.
-- Her quest to track down what really happened in 1986.

All of the sections are interesting; but I especially liked her appreciation of what libraries do in the community, with a focus on what LAPL offers to the homeless citizens of L.A. It’s all a lot to squeeze into only 300 pages, so the book moves pretty quickly. If you have any friends who doubt the current need for public libraries, this is a compelling argument.

Aimee M Trudel
Sep 17, 2019

Jan Reynolds' recommendation - NF

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