“On the morning of April 28, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. As the moments passed, the patrons and staff who had been cleared out of the building realized this was not the usual false alarm. As one fireman recounted later, “Once that first stack got going, it was goodbye, Charlie.”
I’m Betty Martin with "Martin’s Must Reads" and those are the first lines in the introduction to The Library Book by Susan Orlean. It’s a book about the 1986 fire that destroyed half of the library’s collection and Harry Peak, the man who was accused of setting it. But it’s also a wonderful history of the Los Angeles Public Library and the men and women that led it as the library director.
One in particular, Charles Lummis was quite a character, arriving in Los Angeles in 1885 after walking there from Ohio. He was a reporter for the Los Angeles Times before becoming the library director and was fired six years later for too many indiscretions. Even so, all of the directors have been champions of library services that fill the needs of their community.
Some of the chapters describe the variety of services that today’s version of the Los Angeles Public Library offer including an extensive map collection, volunteers who help non-English speaking people fill out forms and a day devoted to offering social services to the many homeless that spend their days in the library.
This is a very readable history of the Los Angeles Public Library and a great introduction to the wide variety of services libraries offer. If you’ve ever wondered about the necessity for public libraries, or just what goes on inside them, you must read The Library Book by Susan Orlean.