I think for most of us readers, we got our start at the local library as a child. Many of us probably drift away from the library as we grow up, either because we can afford our own books, we move toward eBooks, or we simply don’t read as much as we used to. But libraries still hold a special place in our hearts. And even if we don’t use them as much anymore, we recognize their importance and the role they play in our communities.
Susan Orlean’s The Library Book, touches on this theme, looking at the role of libraries through the lens of the library fire in Los Angeles in 1986. The April morning in 1986 when the LA Central Library caught fire is where Orlean starts her book, but she draws readers back through the years, looking at the histories of libraries in general, before focusing in on the history of the LA Central Library and the various characters who have run it throughout the years. Woven throughout, Orlean also explores how the purpose of libraries have changed throughout the years, evolving from a place to read books into almost a kind of community center, offering outreach and help for a wide variety of things. And while the nature of books and reading might be changing, the necessity for libraries continues to endure, proving itself time and again as the librarians constantly find new ways to offer improvement to their communities.
Orlean’s book was fascinating to read, full of history and research and fun anecdotal stories about her time researching the people who ran the library and the fire itself. However, the layout could have been better, I think. While the book is supposed to be focused on the library fire and her research into it, it’s easy to lose focus on that, when the book is going chapter after chapter into the history of the library. Even as I enjoyed the information, I was wondering when the book was going to get back to the fire, and when we were going to get more information on the suspect behind it. Since the chapters of history and the chapters about the fire were all mixed together, I didn’t know how long I was going to have to wait for closure. Whereas, if the book was laid out more chronologically, I think I would have known the information would be toward the end, and I could have enjoyed the history a little more. It also would have helped keep the library employees straight, instead of trying to remember who was in charge during the fire, who was in charge when she started writing about it, and who was in charge during the period of history contained in a given chapter.
Overall, it was an enjoyable book, and one that has a lot that book lovers can relate to. But it’s maybe not a good book for someone who struggles to keep things straight when it’s not in chronological order.