Enlightening and lovely literature on libraries.
April 13, 2009 6:46 AM   Subscribe

Books about libraries, and books/essays about the future of them?

While looking at this book, I came across *this* book, and it got me wondering.

I'd like to read a book (or two) on libraries and their role throughout history. I'm not sure if "Libraries of the Ancient World" is what I'm after, but it did pique my interest.

I love what have been referred to as mono-histories, so I'd like to find something in that vein: tracing the earliest form of libraries in history, their role in society, all the way up to their current incarnation.

There seem to be any number of them out there on Amazon, but I'd like to hear from someone (maybe a librarian even??!) who can recommend a good read here.

I don't necessarily want library porn, so no coffee table books with pictures of beautiful libraries (unless of course, it also doubles as a history of them to some degree) - I guess I'm just kind of after the "Salt" of the library world, ya know?

Now, the second part of my question: have there been any good publications about the future of libraries? The SO and I were discussing how it used to be, to us at least, the library was a place we'd go to get research done for term papers and such for school.

While libraries are still ultimately just trying to provide access to a wealth of information, it seems that students in junior high or high school may not necessarily use them the same way as how we might have used them pre-internet. Maybe they do, but, I'm still curious as to what the prevailing thoughts are as to what libraries may be like in another 10-15 years, and how they can continue to live as public institutions.

A little Googling turned up an NPR story, and a smattering of other mildly informative things, but again, I'd prefer something a little more in depth.

If both of my questions happened to be answered in the form of one book, then that'd be just swell.
posted by mrhaydel to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
How about Library: An Unquiet History by Matthew Battles? Or Reinventing Knowledge: From Alexandria to the Internet by Ian McNeely?
posted by ocherdraco at 7:05 AM on April 13, 2009

In The Size of Thoughts: Essays ,Nicholson Baker has an essay about card catalogs that may be of interest
posted by canoehead at 7:35 AM on April 13, 2009

I'm not sure it's exactly what you are looking for, but Down Cut Shin Creek is an interesting little book. As a librarian, I was inspired by these forgotten librarians and their work. Don't let the age level put you off. Sometimes juvenile books give the best information.
posted by sapphirebbw at 7:49 AM on April 13, 2009

For a bit of retrospective perspective and context regarding where libraries have been, are now, and may or may not go as a result, how about The Libraries of the Future (also in text form)? [via]
posted by teamparka at 8:20 AM on April 13, 2009

For the first part of your question, you will love The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel, which is a wide-ranging, erudite, yet accessible account of civilization's classification and storage of knowledge in paper form, from the Library at Alexandria on up, and also a very personal account of the author's love of libraries and his experience in building his own. I don't remember whether it talks much about the future of libraries (it's been a few years since I read it, and I don't have it to hand) but otherwise it's perfect. The same author has a book you might also enjoy called A History of Reading, though I haven't read that one yet.
posted by roombythelake at 8:29 AM on April 13, 2009

The book Worlds of Reference is a really good history of reference materials and libraries - way more interesting than it sounds. A professor in library school highly recommended this book - I was skeptical since it's from the 1980s - but it's a really great read.
posted by gyusan at 9:35 AM on April 13, 2009

Hmm I am a network tech in a library. The library and librarianmagazines and websites have this subject all the time.

Your best bet would go down to your local library and ask .They can get you the name of these magazines and maybe even let you borrow a copy.

PS THe future of libraries is the computer and trying not to have computers take over peoples jobs.

Example here we have self check out computers, you can also reserve your books at home, pay your fiens on the net and things like that . Slowly but surely librarians wont be needed and your libraruy will be just computer techs like me lol.
posted by majortom1981 at 9:43 AM on April 13, 2009

Robert Darnton wrote an excellent and accessible article entitled "The Library in the New Age" that you might enjoy. Darnton generally works in the field of History of the Book, which might be a useful keyword for future searches, as the study of libraries can be one component of that field.

And for a lighter read, this book is fiction, but it's the first thing that came to mind when I started to read your question.
posted by dizziest at 1:30 PM on April 13, 2009

Seconding The Library at Night. You might also be interested in A Universal History of the Destruction of Books by Fernando Báez.
posted by Alex Voyd at 1:31 PM on April 13, 2009

Thanks everyone for their responses.

I'll still gladly welcome more suggestions. Once I have a chance to look at each one of these books, I'll mark some best answers.
posted by mrhaydel at 5:47 AM on April 14, 2009

The Book on the Bookshelf, by Henry Petroski, is a mono-history of the book form (and its organization on shelves), and by virtue of its subject it is also a history of libraries. I recommend it.
posted by alb at 6:11 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've added all of the ones I marked as best answers to my Amazon wishlist. Thanks again HiveMind.
posted by mrhaydel at 3:19 PM on June 10, 2009

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