With an essay by Umberto Eco.
Munich: Schirmer/Mosel, 2005.
ISBN: 3–829–60186–7 271 pages, 137 color plates. US$99.95.
Its difficult to find anything amiss with a coffeetable book filled with delightful and thoughtful photographs of library interiors, coupled with a stimulating essay by Umberto Eco. For those who can afford it, this book should be close at hand for reflection, a large snapshot of libraries at the end of a print era and the opening of a new digital epoch. Images of computer monitors and overflowing book stacks (p. 71, Universiteitsbibliotheek Utrecht I 2003) are haunting and rare for the most part, leaving bibliohpiles to draw their own conclusions.
Candida Höfer has been photographing interiors for decades, bringing out details in her images that invite analysis and further study. For example, the ladder against the shelves next to a seemingly infinite descending staircase begs closer inspection (p. 89, Herzogin Anaa Amalia Bibliothek Weimar XV 2004). I put my nose to the page to study the spines on the shelves, and then took out a magnifying lens to read titles and labels. I found myself immersing myself in each plate in this work, but that is to be expected by a librarian and book collector. I wonder how others will use this book.
The images are largely from libraries in Europe, especially on the continent. A handful of American libraries open the book, confined to certain wellknown institutions in New York and New England as well as in California. I was disappointed that more American libraries were not included, but the United States is short on Renaissance and Baroque interiors to say the least. I know that there are more than seven interesting library interiors in America, but you will find only seven that were acceptable to Höfer for this book. This work concludes with nine plates of libraries in South America and Mexico, five of which represent images of libraries in Rio de Janeiro. In spite of this lack of geographic diversity, the images are breathtaking, inspiring meditations and careful (even with a hand lens) studies.
Umberto Ecos essay extensively quotes from Jorge Luis Borges The Library of Babel which in some ways could be a companion on the coffee table to this volume. Eco uses his selection from Borges as a starting point on what a library should not be, as he states a negative model, in nineteen points, of a bad library. He then lapses into memories of favorite libraries (their interiors, collections, personnel, and idiosyncrasies), an easy fate with this book. His intolerance of xeroculture, or the culture of the photocopy, leads to a call for better library education, that is instruction in the use of libraries. Three cheers for Eco!
This book should be in every library and on the tables within easy grasp of every fan of books and libraries. Highly recommended for academic and large public libraries, especially for art, photography, and architecture collections.
About the Author
Edward J. Valauskas is Follett Chair, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, Dominican University.
Email: ejv [at] email [dot] dom [dot] edu
© 2006 Edward J. Valauskas
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