Thursday, January 18, 2007

Book Review: "The Library as Place"

The Library as Place: History, Community, and Culture is a collection of essays edited by John Buschman and Gloria Leckie. Designed to "provide diverse and wide-ranging perspectives on the role and place of different kinds of libraries as cultural institutions as well as the library as a physical, social, and intellectual place within the hearts and minds of its clientele and the public at large" (p. 4) the essays cover a great deal of scholarly ground.

While many of the selections included here were too theory-based for my liking (just not my cup of tea), some of the essays were very worthwhile and enlightening nonetheless. I enjoyed Adam Arenson's study of early "social libraries" (athenaeums and other institutions) and his comparison of those facilities with the first true "public" libraries (beginning with the establishment of Boston's in 1859). The differences not only in collection priorities but also in terms of aesthetic design were striking. Thomas Mann's excellent argument for the continued usefulness of research libraries is an important addition to the debate over digitization and library priorities. Perhaps most novel (and thus most intriguing) was Adriana Estill's distillation of the role of the high school library in the first three seasons of the television show "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." As she notes, the episodes of those first seasons "consistently addressed the cultural and social negotiations around reading, literacy, research, and, pivotally, the library's meaning as place (p. 235).

A well-chosen compilation of library scholarship; as always with such things some pieces are far more exciting than others, but for those whose interests run to deep discussions of library philosophy, this book's for you.