By Judy Garrison
Our Library Director, Pam, so loved this book, a recently published new acquisition, that she has affixed a signed sticky note by the frontispiece with the message: “If you love libraries I highly [twice underscored] recommend this book!” She also buttonholed me, probably by virtue of my being the current president of the library board of trustees, literally pressing the book into my hands. I have been gobbling up every page.
If you’ve read Orleans’ The Orchid Thief you know her ability to transmute quirky obsessions into riveting reading entertainment through her accretion of both highly observed and thoroughly researched detail. She has accomplished this feat in spades in A LIBRARY BOOK, beginning with an account of the devastating fire at the Los Angeles Central Library in 1986. Her narrative, caught up in the whirl of mystery of how the fire started, expands into a full-blown history of the fire, this particular library, and libraries everywhere, leading us, in Erik Larson’s words, on “a journey through a world of infinite richness, populated with unexpected characters doing unexpected things with unexpected passion.” Many of these characters are librarians, brilliant and idiosyncratic, from the L.A. library system, dating all the way back to the 19th century.
The L.A. Central Library is huge, as is its staff and the breadth and numbers of its programs. But local readers will recognize some of the same challenges faced by our small and intimate library in these stories. And recognize the role of libraries everywhere as they morph from being primarily simple storehouses of materials into information and knowledge centers, performing ever-changing new roles. For instance, the mind-bending variety of mobile libraries she profiles that have existed around the world inspired me to imagine ways we at the Andes Public Library can distribute books during our construction project when we won’t be able to depend on our conventional set-up. Unorthodox forms of outreach can offer the opportunity to serve people not touched previously. And the invaluableness of the L.A. Library system to its community is recognizable, I believe, in the essential and ever evolving role the Andes Public Library plays in ours. Read this book! ~