As a former librarian and student of library studies, this book needed to work hard to impress me. Unfortunately, it failed. I’m not doubting the scholarship and structure of the text, but I had some major issues with the book.
This book is about the history of libraries, mostly in the western world, from ancient times until the current era. The authors, I have found, specialise in the history of early printed books, Reformation Europe and the book trade. It seems to me that they have written a book focusing on these topics while presenting it as a broader history of libraries. Only the last part (of 6) was about the 20th century, which after the devastating impact of the Second World War on libraries, saw the biggest technological revolutions since the invention of moveable type and printing presses – that is, the provision of computers for library users, electronic library management systems, barcodes, radio-frequency identification, the internet, ebooks – and which gets so little attention.
It really bugged me how the authors mention ebooks (or ereaders, they don’t differentiate between the two) perhaps once or twice and seem to dismiss them as a passing fad which will soon be obsolete, like CD-ROMs. They don’t think that ebooks count as proper books, clearly. Libraries are, in their opinion, defined as buildings or rooms containing physical printed books. No mention of audiobooks, e-journals which are a vital part of university library provision, the changing roles of modern librarians (teachers, community links, promoters of information literacy), how libraries now accommodate users with disabilities or even the differences between libraries and archives. Dewey Decimal Classification is incorrectly described as a cataloguing system. Classification is barely looked at, anyhow. The book is preoccupied with books as objects and with reeling off lists of how many works various libraries lost in fires. The writing style is dry and academic, suitable for students of book history but for the casual reader it’s about as exciting as the lint on a librarian’s cardigan.
Published in 2021.