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Anyone who has worked in a library will find much with which to commiserate and celebrate in this story of the Los Angeles Public Library - the colourful characters who founded and nourished it, oversaw its move into the current grand central library, and managing the devastating loss of thousands of books and other valuable items in the 1986 fire. After 30 years in public libraries, I often found myself nodding in recognition at the dilemmas, changes, and successes over the library's history. Even if you have never worked in a library, however, you will find much to enjoy in this tale of a little California city that grew exponentially over the last century - and the central library it spawned. I was especially impressed with Orlean's thorough research that brought depth, texture and nuance to this history of the city and the library - and certainly captured well the essence of what it means to work in a North American public library.
This book lived up to its pre-publication attention and then some. I can't say enough about how well the author balanced historical research across centuries with present-day interviews and research and a smattering of personal anecdotes. For me, non-fiction usually drags at some point, but I was absolutely engaged throughout this entire read. I listened to the audiobook format, and enjoyed hearing Orleans narrate her own work.
Readers who love books and libraries should check this book out (pun intended).
I had no idea this fire happened until I read this book - it is a fascinating and interesting journey into the huge 1986 arson fire at the Los Angeles Public Library. If you like libraries, this is a must read.
What happens when you set a book on fire? Susan Orlean tested it out in her California backyard. First it smokes, then flares, and then in a poof the book is gone enveloped in seconds leaving sooty ashes floating through the air.
On April 28th, 1986 the main branch of the Los Angeles Public Library caught fire and burned with a magical power, fueled by the written word and confined and narrow ceilings and shelving, for seven hours. The fire was finally extinguished after millions of gallons of water had been expended and holes had been knocked in the building. Who would set such a fire? Fingers seem to point to chronic liar but the other culprits are numerous.
Orlean uses the mystery of the fire to drive forward her non-fiction narrative. She deftly changes between the wild history of the LA Public Library, the history of the building itself, the inner details of the many and varied library departments, and the mystery of the fire and the search of a culprit. The drama in all of these areas is amazing. The newspaper headlines wild. The directions the Library Board decides to take system often protested and unreasonable. Yet, the library drives forward, ever expanding and finding new ways to serve the population of LA.
This is a love story and libraries and their mission are at the heart of this beautifully bound and written book.
Fascinating story of the LA Public Library fire of 1986 and put together in a way all readers will enjoy. It addresses the suspected arson, Harry Peak, and detailed account of the condition of the library at the time. Background of libraries and librarians over time was so interesting. Orlean's own motives for writing came from her childhood experience with a library. "It wasn't like going to the store with my mom, which guaranteed a tug-of-war between what I wanted and what my mother was willing to buy me; in the library I could have anything I wanted."
Having worked in a library brought me close to an experience that can be found nowhere else. 1949 UNESCO Public Library Manifesto: "The library is a prerequisite to let citizens make use of their right to information and freedom of speech. Free access to information is necessary in a democratic society, for open debate and creation of public opinion."
An excellent read! A must for lovers of libraries...make you feels so appreciative for libraries and what they stand for and contribute to communities.
Just one of the best books I have read in quite a while...I wondered why I have never heard of this fire, being a supporter of libraries, then realized it was overshadowed by Chernobyl...
The writing is excellent, the details explored are amazing and the work done by the staff and the public to heal this tragedy is inspiring.
I know if you use this service to review your reading, you are a real fan of libraries, and I urge you to get on the waiting list and enjoy the read. It will be worth the wait.
I feel I did not say enough about the history and the stories of the librarians that founded the LA Library...from very competent people to colorful "characters" it all a vital aspect of the Library.
I really enjoyed reading about the LA Library fire I had no idea it had even happened. I also really appreciated how thorough the author was in describing the Los Angeles County Library system how it began to what it is today and the services that they offer. Overall, it was an excellent read.
This is a must read for librarians, those of us who love our libraries, and the generation of non-book readers. From the fire to the story of the "lady librarians" to how libraries and their diverse communities can come together for the betterment of all - this well-researched book does it all. Since Orleans writes for the NYer she does one very annoying thing - every person gets a 1-2-3 description ala the NYer. Small complaint but started to do it myself whenever I met someone new in the book. The LA County and LA City librarians these days are rock stars in the library world - would be interesting to find out what they do and "bring it home." I believe that libraries can do so much more to foster community but their piece of the Bellinham budget is so limited it's hard for them to do all that I know they dream about doing.
A great book about libraries, patrons, people who work in libraries and those who appreciate libraries.
This book is the fantastic representation of the lives and politics (even the peanut politics) of the library world. It covers the perspective of patrons, library workers such as clerks, librarians, etc... It also covers the issues involving serving the public with little means or a lot of means for libraries. Working at a library is not easy work and it's a not place to work if you love to read or love books, it's a place that deals with countless intricacies of various kinds. At first I almost dismissed this as 'another person that loves to read and loves books' when the author talks about how she started going back to the library once she had children. In the library world that is nice to know, but we don't want to lose patrons because they feel it's a place solely for students and parents with small children/grade school learning. A must read for people that appreciate libraries but don't know how they work as far as work load, skills needed, and the office politics. I also enjoyed the interview/insight of the digital vendors that work with libraries for streaming content and listening to downloadable audio.
I wish our library would purchase more copies, particularly some in large print if available.
An amazing book detailing the value of libraries. Should be required reading for all city politicians and civic senior managers.
The author offers an insightful view of the enduring value of libraries to the community and the ways they can continue to inspire and assist anyone who walks through their doors. Truly an amazing must-read to anyone who loves their library.
The author's love of her subject shines through on every page in her latest book. As a resident of L.A., Orlean was surprised to learn about a 1986 fire in the L.A. Public Library that she had never previously known about. In exploring more about the story, her research uncovers the intriguing history of the library in Los Angeles, as well as the pioneering future of libraries worldwide. Beautifully written, packed with real history, even spinning some suspense; I loved this book!
"Here is my story, please listen; here I am, please tell me your story," says the library. Susan Orlean weaves an amazing tale for us centered around the tragic library fire that devastated the Central LA Branch in 1986.
In this book, the story begins with a depiction of the fire itself then backtracks to tell the story of the LA library system and its many iconic leaders. In between we get updates on the investigation into the fire as well as chapters on the many ways a library is so much more than a storehouse for books.
All of us who love libraries will be uplifted by this love letter to libraries and the way they transcend the mere buildings and physical objects within. Highly recommended!
This book took me back to my days working at Los Angeles Public Library. What starts out as an investigation into whether the massive 1986 fire at the Central Library was arson, Orlean takes that initial story and branches out into multiple stories about LAPL--the fire and the psychological damage it wrought, the relatively fascinating history of LAPL itself, and finally an examination of the current work being done in public libraries at present. The hopping back and forth by chapter works quite well.
As a public librarian, it is humbling and encouraging to see a writer who didn't really know what goes on in modern public libraries become fascinated in our work and tell the story of how crucial public libraries are to what Eric Klinenberg calls the 'social infrastructure' of our communities.
Thank you, Susan Orlean, for this beautiful homage the place I cut my teeth at a reference desk, Los Angeles Public Library! Great reporting and a great thought piece about the role of public libraries in our modern world.
I received an advance reading copy of this book and am enthralled at Orlean's excellent writing, vivid descriptions and meticulous research into the circumstances surrounding the tragic fire at the Los Angeles Central Library in 1986. it is a love letter to all libraries and it is a true crime novel where the victims were hundreds of thousands of books and irreplaceable historical records.