Posted by: bluesyemre | April 27, 2018

Every #Library has a story to tell

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Inside the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C., c. 1940s. CORNELL UNIVERSITY LIBRARY/PUBLIC DOMAIN

Three new books for bibliophiles dig into the hidden human side of book collections

A LIBRARY IS, AT ITS most essential, a space that holds a collection of books. A dedicated room or building is not technically necessary. In his Book of Book Lists, recently released in the United States, author Alex Johnson offers examples of portable libraries—“sturdy wooden cases” of books and magazines that “were passed between lighthouses around the United States,” for instance. He includes the library Robert Falcon Scott took on board the Discovery in 1901, when the ship left for Antarctica, with a catalogue that specified which cabin a volume could be found in. Napoleon, he writes, had a traveling collection of French classics that was ported with him to war. It included five volumes of Voltaire’s plays and Montesquieu’s work on the Causes of the Greatness of the Romans and Their Decline.

But whatever form a library takes, someone had to have chosen the books in it, which reveal the secrets of heart and mind—their cares, their greeds, their enthusiasms, their obsessions.

Libraries, writes Stuart Kells, a historian of the book trade, are “human places … full of stories.” Kells’s new book, The Library: A Catalogue of Wonders, offers a history that begins before the written word and follows the development of book collections through the digital age. At times, he takes a lofty view. “What exactly are libraries for?” he asks, after touching on the Library of Alexandria, medieval monasteries, erotic collections, the Vatican’s closed stacks, private collections, and university libraries, along with writers’ libraries, library fauna, and other curiosities. He takes a few stabs the answer. “Libraries are an attempt to impose order in a world of chaos,” he writes. “They are places of redemption.”

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