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Widener: Biography of a Library (Harvard…

Widener: Biography of a Library (Harvard College Library)

by Matthew Battles

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Following up on Library: An Unquiet History is another book by the man whose job I want most (that is a librarian who gets to write books about libraries). While a bit uneven, I learned a lot about the library "across the river" where most of the books I provide for customers on interlibrary loan come from. Most interesting are the stories of the immigrant boys who ran amok in the stacks as pages and the immigrant men who managed the stacks a la Mark Blumberg on a grander scale. I also found Widener's role in the computerization of libraries interesting. Battles descriptive writing about computers naturally grew into libraries is particularly distinguished:

"Soon came the computers themselves, which would each year henceforward appear in new configurations, in new patterns and places. The iridescence of a screen suddenly would bloom among the dim lamps of the Reading Room; soon, whole tables were given over to them, where they sat glaring at each other across empty Windsor chairs. In the stacks, they would sprout here and there -- behind an elevator, perhaps, or on a table near a window -- each generation featuring a throbbing new graphic or dizzying screen-saver that would oscillate in the calm among the bookshelves. And suddenly they were ubiquitous -- like vases of flowers, or typewriters, or carrousels of ink stamps, they took their place among the commonplace furniture of the library." p. 162-63

This is but a breezy picture book alas, and it has left me longing for more. ( )
1 vote Othemts | Jun 25, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0674016688, Hardcover)

Wallace Stegner called its stacks "enchanted." Barbara Tuchman called it "my Archimedes bathtub, my burning bush." But to Thomas Wolfe, it was a place of "wilderment and despair." Since its opening in 1915, the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library has led a spirited life as Harvard's physical and, in a sense, its spiritual heart. Originally intended as the memorial to one man, it quickly grew into a symbol of the life of the mind with few equals anywhere--and like all symbols, it has enjoyed its share of contest and contradiction. At the unlikely intersection of such disparate episodes as the sinking of the Titanic, the social upheavals of the 1960s, and the shifting meaning of books and libraries in the information age, Widener is at once the storehouse and the focus of rich and ever-growing hoards of memory.

With copious illustrations and wide-ranging narrative, Widener: Biography of a Library is not only a record of benefactors and collections; it is the tale of the students, scholars, and staff who give a great library its life.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:27 -0400)

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