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In The Library Book, Orlean chronicles the LAPL fire and its aftermath to showcase the larger, crucial role that libraries play in our lives; delves into the evolution of libraries across the country and around the world, from their humble beginnings as a metropolitan charitable initiative to their current status as a cornerstone of national identity; brings each department of the library to vivid life through on-the-ground reporting; studies arson and attempts to burn a copy of a book herself; reflects on her own experiences in libraries; and reexamines the case of Harry Peak, the blond-haired actor long suspected of setting fire to the LAPL more than thirty years ago.

So this book was, ironically, my first ever Kindle Read – very much out of necessity because I began my travels to New Zealand/Australia. I happily read this on the 50 hours of travelling I did to get to New Zealand.

As expected, “The Library Book” holds a very special place in my ex-librarian heart and I can honestly say I now miss my old job so much. Here’s why:

It describes the entity of libraries in a wholehearted, well-rounded way that I could never manage.

Keeping the Los Angeles 1986 fire as a central point Orlean discusses what a public library truly is – a safe haven, a bank of knowledge and a constantly moving environment keeping pace with its community. I believe that anyone who has a library in their community should know what it can do and what it’s been through to be there for its community, so illustrating exactly that was so wonderful to read.

It was purring with that soothing library noise—not a din, not a racket, just a constant, warm, shapeless sound—space inhabited peacefully and purposefully by many strangers.

In times of trouble, libraries are sanctuaries.

People think of libraries as the safest and most open places in society.

Not listing all the quotes from this book was a challenge in itself – but these words truly spoke to me. I’ve worked in many different libraries around the area that I lived in England. Each one being different, depending on its immediate community. Orlean expressed this so well and I loved it.

The narrative was immensely readable and told a great story. 

The story of the Los Angeles Library fire was fascinating, Orlean dropped you in, hinted at the investigation surrounding the event and then brought you back through its history – demanding that you care about the loss. She painted the character of each person that was involved in the book – including Harry Peak, the person that police focused their investigation on. It made for a suspenseful read about an event that happened over 30 years ago.

It was personal, just like a public library should be. 

It wasn’t like going to a store with my mom, which guaranteed a tug-of-war between what I wanted and what my mother was willing to buy me; in the library I could have anything I wanted.

From being a Library Assistant since the beginning of my working life, it’s been my job to create a comfortable environment for everyone – and I really mean everyone. A library should be personal, it should be a space for you, to the best of its ability it should provide for the needs of each individual. Whether that’s a place for babies to experience nursery rhymes, a child to decipher all the dinosaur books, a teenager to explore important social topics, a person finding health information or a pensioner wanting somewhere to knit but also have a natter.

This book highlighted how personal a library can be, its a building that is a sanctuary for everyone and when the worst happens, it brings the community together even more so than it does already. I will forever be thankful that the book exists – someone cares enough of these places to write such a love letter for them.

I can now encourage everyone to read it – and hopefully understand why I loved my job and the little part I used to play in peoples lives.


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