Library: An Unquiet History by Matthew Battles
There are weeks when I get to read a whole bunch of fun books that I have been excited about forever! And then there are weeks when all I manage to get through is a book for school. And you guys then have to read about it. Sorry.
My favorite class in information/library/archives/whatever you want to call it so far has been “Collecting New Media.” This class could also be titled “Sit around and talk about interesting subjects with smart interesting people,” because that’s pretty much all we do. A class about how one collects new media lends itself to a whole bunch of “So what is a library/museum/archive exactly?” type of conversations, which I believe this book was supposed to help illuminate.
Matthew Battles book tracks the development of the library through history. Books were burned (and not burned, as is the case with the Library of Alexandria), books were buried with scholars, books were kept private and then finally opened to the public. With all this, there are questions of intellectual freedom, the power of the library over its users and, yes, questions of what actually makes a library.
Although I find all those topics interesting, I found this book a bit dry. I really just wanted to get through all the ancient stuff and get to today…which never really happens. I also would have loved to read more about librarians rather than libraries. Battles seems to focus more on the books and buildings than the people, which is frustrating.
I did learn that librarians did really well in the beginning of Nazi Germany, because they totally just went along with the regime, helping out the Nazis with getting rid of those pesky, non-Nazi party line books and whatnot. Honestly, this was the most important lesson out of the book. Librarians tend to be rule followers (no matter how much you read about those riot, punk librarians…by and large librarians love their rules and systems), while they still espouse the ideals of intellectual freedom. Don’t let rules cloud your overall judgement about what’s right. A good lesson for everyone, not just librarians.
Also, because of this section of the book, I may have unintentionally likened librarians to Nazis in class today. I expect my faculty advisor to throw me out of school at any minute.