This book provides an architectural history of library design, from ancient Mesopotamia to the modern world. The text and the glorious accompanying photographs trace the development of libraries in response to the way information was created and stored, the needs of scholars and readers, and the practical and aesthetic aspects as well.
The book includes exploration of library needs from the clay tablets and scrolls of antiquity, through medieval European libraries where manuscripts were chained to shelves or desks, the different requirements of libraries in medieval Asia, as well as the lavish and intricate baroque and rococo designs of the 17th and 18th centuries, and the (usually) more utilitarian spaces of the 20th and 21st centuries.
‘One element that sets libraries apart from most other architectural spaces is the primary importance of their furniture and fittings.’
Most of the libraries included are beautiful and grand places, not much like the late 20th century libraries I am familiar with. Some of them are (or were) very sensibly designed spaces for the storage of books but not really practical for readers. Others look more like art museums than book repositories. All of them look like places I’d like to visit.
‘Books are only part of the problem. The main spaces of libraries, the reading rooms, often present considerable structural challenges.’
I enjoyed the information that James Campbell included in the text, including: the fact that colonies of bats are used to control pests in the 18th century libraries in Coimbra and Mafra; the fact that a Korean library in the Haeinsa Temple has safely stored the wooden printing blocks of the Tripitaka Koreana for almost 700 years; and the fact that ‘better, modern, climate-controlled buildings’ purpose built in 1972 proved unsuitable, and the blocks were returned to the original buildings.
‘Libraries have been in a state of continual change for centuries.’
Librarians and those who study information and its repositories will find the book interesting and informative. Those who admire libraries and are interested in their history will enjoy the book, as will those who enjoy beautiful photography of glorious spaces. I love this book.
on 24 November 2013
This is a great book with interesting content and lush photography. Highly recommended for anyone who loves the written word. Its weight, both physically and in terms of its coverage, mean it will be something to dip into often, not just flicked through and abandoned.
on 25 February 2014
My wife loves books and libraries ( having been to a couple featured here) and is the best read person I know. So when she describes this as " the best book in the world" I take her seriously. This is a large heavy book of high quality, the photo and print reproduction is lovely. So is the paper. She says it's not just a coffee table ornament ( it does tho look very nice) but actually is a great read for lovers of the subject. Which in case you havn't guessed is libraries of the world and the love of books. Her delight at owning it is matched by mine,for getting it right for once! and the fact it was £26 on Amazon. A bargain.
on 24 December 2013
What can be a more fitting tribute to libraries than a book? And books do not get much better than this one.
It is a must have for anyone interested in the history of books and learning. It is also a complete joy for anyone else.
The physical book is a delight to hold and leaf through. Will Pryce's images are rich, sensitive, and atmospheric. They are given a generous amount of space, and the result is a luxurious volume that transports the reader effortlessly into a spellbinding collection of libraries most of us will never see.
Although the images are mesmerizing, this is not a picture book. It is an illustrated history of the world's learning. As we are guided through the development of the library, we are introduced to who was making and storing books, and where and how they chose to do it. The list of libraries therefore reads like a history of world culture.
James Campbell's explanatory text is clear and revealing. It is stuffed full of fascinating scholarship, but always joyfully light and easily accessible. As he takes us effortlessly through the evolution of the library, he gleefully reveals wonderful nuggets of information -- like the use of paper for furniture and armour, and debates on whether it is good for monks to study books at all.
The variety of libraries covered is astounding, and there is something here for every taste, from ancient Mesopotamia to the grandiose modern facilities designed to cope with the vast numbers of volumes now requiring storage. The author's unprecedented access to so many of the world's most beautiful libraries makes this the most definitive history of the subject available.
Overall, this is a tribute to libraries and their readers. It is inspiring, uplifting, beautiful, and rich with fascinating detail. As James Campbell acutely observes: libraries celebrate the act of reading and the importance of learning.
This book, too, does just that.
on 14 July 2014
I am a librarian; my husband collects antiquarian books; we both like to visit old libraries when we are on our travels. This book has given us so much pleasure, both in the looking, touching and reading of it and also in the inspirational ideas it has given us for future visits.
I have one minor complaint and that it is case bound with a dust jacket which is itself beautiful. Eventually the dust jacket would get very tatty so it needs to be covered. Fortunately, I am a librarian and can do this, but it would be better if the book was case-wrapped with the illustration printed on the case.