- The Library as Place: History, Community, and Culture
How do “the personal, the private, the public, the physical, the intellectual, and the cultural, coalesce into the space or place that we call the library” (3)? This book—well edited, well documented, and well indexed—provides a broad sweep of answers to this question. The editors have chosen a varied set of papers written around a thematic concept that was adopted in 2003. This volume is the offspring of Library Quarterly, since the papers obtained for a special issue on this topic became thirty rather than the journal limit of six. Thus, blessed as a separately issued monograph, fourteen papers were eventually chosen as covering the ground in this monograph. Readers will find much here to inform and stimulate them.
The book has four thematic sections. First, “The Library’s Place in the Past” has three chapters providing nineteenth-century perspectives. Second, four chapters make up the section entitled “Libraries as [Social] Places of Community.” Third, “Research Libraries as Places of Learning and Scholarship” provides three chapters exploring different physical conditions that support learning and research. Fourth, three more chapters are under “Libraries, Place, and Culture,” with their titles being “On the Myths of Libraries,” “Managing Pleasure: Library Architecture and the Erotics of Reading,” and “Going to Hell: Placing the Library in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Other chapters cover British military libraries, the Greensboro Carnegie Negro Library, the lesbian and gay “place” in the library, storytime and a knitters’ group in a public library, and the scholars’ serendipitous space.
These topics indicate the breadth and charm of the papers. Several are historical, two are polemical, one elucidates the library as “fruit and root of the community” (79), several are the result of applying structured research methodology, one tellingly urges the case for books classified and cataloged, and another fascinatingly traces how one fifteenth-century book has been treated over the centuries. A third of the authors are Canadians.
There is perhaps not much new here to those who follow the flood of recent literature on this subject. Obviously, people use library spaces in various ways; the spaces are much more than discrete physical places. The passion for and drive after learning and information seem universal if these spaces reflect life. And the diversity and social aspects are burgeoning. Several authors cite the social function of libraries as a “third place,” beside home and work places, per sociologist Ray Oldenburg (50). Still, nothing is said here of the influence on library place of book formats, student commuting patterns, lecture classes using TAs, media influences, educational standards, social mores, twenty-first-century economies, and the sharp increase in publishing.
Yes, the book treats the shadow of information technology, which looms over the prototypical library. Yet nothing is said of parallels with icrofilm, TV, and [End Page 220]movies, each of which in its youth was predicted to swamp the world of books and lead to the disuse or even the demise of libraries. One dismisses reality if one fails to acknowledge impressive technology, which has grown exponentially since the 1950s. However, this digital world will require several more decades to mature to a point where its precise role can be better discerned, a role to complement and supplement the traditional library. A more nuanced library place will be the result—a redefined physical place of libraries as the great educational, entertainment, and cultural asset of modern society.
Not to be overlooked is the introductory chapter by the two editors, an article entitled “Space, Place, and Libraries: An Introduction” (3–25). This sounds like a good preface to the volume, especially since it starts out by stating that the questions to be answered in this compilation are how library users (both users and staff) bring their values, beliefs, expectations, etc. into the space or place of the library: “What is the difference between the library as a space and the library as a place? Does it matter if libraries are...