The invention and reinvention of libraries.
Before the printing press, only royals and scholars collected books. A personal library of more than 1,000 volumes was considered huge, “the work of a lifetime.” But by the 16th century, Europe abounded in some 9 million volumes; the book became “no longer an object of wonder, but an everyday aspect of life.” Crawford (New Directions for Academic Liaison Librarians, 2012, etc.), digital humanities research librarian at the University of St. Andrews Library in Scotland, has gathered a dozen illuminating essays by distinguished historians, librarians, and literary scholars about the past, present, and future of the often rarefied space known as the library. Victorianist John Sutherland looks at the growth of public libraries in 19th-century Britain, where the hardback, three-volume novel was unaffordable for ordinary readers. By the 1890s, a new publishing venture followed a hardback first issue with a cheap edition costing a few shillings. This forerunner of the paperback led to the growth of the personal library. Free public libraries, along with fee-based lending libraries, led to a burgeoning readership. At the popular Railway Library, travelers could buy a cheap, pocket-sized book for a journey or even rent one, “borrowed at a departure station and returned at the destination station.” Among essayists on how libraries have been imagined in fiction, poetry, and film, Oxford professor Laura Marcus describes libraries in movies as “repositories of secret or occulted knowledge.” In Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire, for example, the library is inhabited by angels “who act as the comforters of the living and are able to listen in to their subconscious thoughts.” In Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451, “the human mind and memory” hold libraries. Stephen Enniss, director of the esteemed Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, offers a fascinating look at assembling writers’ archives, complicated by the ubiquity of electronic files.
A rich, informative, and engaging collection.