There is a lot to know about libraries!
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Did you know there was a major fire at the Los Angeles Public Library in 1986? It occurred at the “Central Library” in downtown Los Angeles. More than a million books were lost in the event. A million! Investigators have never been able to figure out if the fire occurred accidentally or if it was caused by “a human hand holding an open flame.”
The opening chapter of the book tells us about Harry Peak, the main suspect in the fire. This being the case, I thought the book was a mystery and that the author would go on to investigate and solve it. But that’s not what this book is about. Instead, it’s a love story. As the author sings the praises of Central Library – telling us about its past, present, and future – the reader comes to love it too.
Here are some interesting tidbits about Central Library:
- Before the fire, Central Library’s collection was valued at $69 million dollars. This included over two million books, manuscripts, maps, magazines, newspapers, atlases, and musical scores. But it also included census records going back to 1790, theater programs of every play produced in LA since 1880, telephone directories for every single American city with a population over 10,000, a Shakespeare folio, and car repair manuals for every make and model of automobile starting with the Model T.
- Currently, the library’s “shipping department” moves 32,000 books around the city of Los Angeles five days a week as it sends requested books from one branch to another via the Central Library “hub.”
- Ray Bradbury’s family was too poor to send him to college, so he spent 13 years reading his way through Central Library becoming – in his words – “library educated.” Loving libraries, he spent $9.80 (ten cents/hour) to rent a typewriter at UCLA’s Powell Library where he wrote a book about an era when firemen were in charge of burning books. The working title was, “The Fireman.” When published, it became Fahrenheit 451 because 451 degrees is the temperature at which paper burns. Ironically, since the 1986 fire burned all fiction by authors with last names A through L, Ray Bradbury’s books were lost in the fire.
The author also tells us some fascinating things about libraries in general:
- As a child, Andrew Carnegie could not afford the $2.00 membership fee for his local library. When he had money to spare as an adult, he launched a library-building project in 1890. Ultimately, he built nearly 1700 libraries in 1400 communities.
- The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Libraries Initiative started out with a goal of helping every American library get connected to the Internet and then expanded the goal internationally. Thanks to this, libraries are now the default location for free public Internet.
- When the author talks about the future of libraries, she visits the headquarters of OverDrive in Cleveland. If you have ever borrowed a digital book from a library, you probably borrowed it from OverDrive. By the end of 2017, they had loaned one billion books. Billion, with a “B”! She tells of the ten-foot-square screen in the corporate office that shows a map of world. Every few seconds, a bubble pops up showing the name of the library and the name of the book that just got checked out!
This book gives such an appreciation for libraries in general and especially for Central Library that in some post-coronavirus day I’d love to travel to LA to see it. Perhaps I’ll go around New Year’s Day because Central Library always has had a float in the Parade of Roses. Fascinating!
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