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The Meaning of the Library:
A Cultural History
Edited by Alice Crawford

Hardcover | 2015 | $35.00 | £24.95 | ISBN: 9780691166391
336 pp. | 6 x 9 | 33 halftones.
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eBook | ISBN: 9781400865741 |
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From Greek and Roman times to the digital era, the library has remained central to knowledge, scholarship, and the imagination. Generously illustrated, The Meaning of the Library examines this key institution of Western culture. Tracing what the library has meant since its beginning, examining how its significance has shifted, and pondering its importance in the twenty-first century, significant contributors—including the librarian of the Congress and the former executive director of the HathiTrust—present a cultural history of the library.

Whether relishing an account of the Alexandrian Library or a look at the stylish railway libraries of nineteenth-century England, readers will find a sparkling survey of the library through time. Here, too, are the imagined libraries of fiction, poetry, and film, from Scheherazade’s stories to The Name of the Rose and beyond. In an informative introduction, Alice Crawford sets out the book’s purpose and scope, and an international array of scholars, librarians, writers, and critics offer vivid perspectives about the library through their chosen fields. Contributors to this collection include David Allan, James Billington, Robert Crawford, Robert Darnton, Stephen Enniss, Richard Gameson, Edith Hall, Laura Marcus, Andrew Pettegree, John Sutherland, Marina Warner, and John Wilkin.

A landmark collection, The Meaning of the Library addresses the significance of the library—both physical and virtual—in the past and present, and will appeal to readers, librarians, and all who are interested in this vital institution’s heritage and ongoing legacy.

Alice Crawford is digital humanities research librarian at the University of St. Andrews Library in Scotland. Her books include Paradise Pursued: The Novels of Rose Macaulay.


"[F]or both scholar and general reader, comprehensive bibliographic notes constitute a multilingual gold mine of historical resources on libraries."--Booklist

"Compelling . . . astute . . . eloquent . . . as a history and an assessment of an inestimable resource and a force for good in the world, The Meaning of the Library is a timely and thought-provoking compilation."--Patricia Craig, The Independent

"The Meaning of the Library: A Cultural History is a riveting and deeply satisfying work that is bound to leave the reader not only far more aware of the sociocultural importance of the institution as a reservoir of heritage and learning, but also inspired to think of issues that lie beyond the earthly and temporal realm."--Lois C. Henderson,

"A marvelous survey of Western libraries and books from Greek and Roman times to today. . . . It is a lovely book, handsomely designed with endnotes, author bios, bibliography, index, and an eight-page, four-color insert-illustrations of ancient and medieval book cabinets."--Wally Wood,


"This wide-ranging survey of the long and tumultuous history of libraries contains at least a dozen tantalizing bits of information per page. I was fascinated and enriched. And because these essays began as lectures delivered in a library, they illustrate beautifully one of the library's most important roles--as a stage set for writers to share what they've learned about various subjects, including Roman bathhouses, Victorian fumigators, plunder, lust, and the eighteenth-century librarian upon whose death, it was said, 'The books are grievin, 'mang themselves.'"--Marilyn Johnson, author of This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All

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