The Library: A World History

Codrington Library at All Souls College in Oxford
Codrington Library at All Souls College in Oxford


Mafra Palace Library in Mafra, Portugal
Mafra Palace Library in Mafra, Portugal

Tripitaka Koreana at the Haeinsa Temple in South Korea
Tripitaka Koreana at the Haeinsa Temple in South Korea

Biblioteca Malatestiana in Cesena, Italy
Biblioteca Malatestiana in Cesena, Italy

Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, France
Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, France

Abbey of St Gall Library in St Gallen, Switzerland
Abbey of St Gall Library in St Gallen, Switzerland

George Peabody Library, Baltimore
George Peabody Library, Baltimore

National Library of China in Beijing
National Library of China in Beijing

J. Mordaunt Crook (TLS) browses James Campbell’s illustrated history of libraries, with photographs by Will Pryce (thanks to Dr Jennifer Dawn Whitney for the link)

“Will this study serve merely as a memorial to a defunct building type?” James W. P. Campbell poses this troubling question at the start of his odyssey through the library buildings of the world. Over 300 pages – and nearly 300 illustrations – later he answers his own query with cautious optimism: “humankind has created an extraordinary variety of spaces in which to read, to think, to dream and to celebrate knowledge. As long as it continues to value these activities, it will continue to build places to house them. Whether they will involve books or will still be called libraries only time will tell”.

Well, this is Thames and Hudson’s third attempt in a decade to get to grips with this theme. And it is by far the best. The first, The Most Beautiful Libraries of the World by Jacques Bosser and Guillaume de Laubier (2003), was little more than a picturebook with anecdotal captions. The coverage was primarily European and post-Renaissance: only Boston, Washington, New York and St Petersburg slipped inside the cultural fence. The second attempt – Libraries (2005) – was sadly defective: a random package of images by Candida Hofer, without text apart from a rambling preface by Umberto Eco. On every count – scholarship, production, readability – The Library: A world history is way ahead of its predecessors, particularly with regards to production and design. The photographs by Will Pryce are technically flawless, and they give point and purpose to a text which is not only informative but persuasive. The message is clear: of the making of libraries there can be no end. [Read More]

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