20.13 The Library: A World History

Key Note Speaker: James Campbell – The Library: A World History

From delegates’ feedback: “The lectures were excellent, especially James Campbell, who enthused me sufficiently to go out and buy his book!” “Key note speaker was brilliant” 25


  • A full house attends Dr James Campbell’s Key Note Lecture based on his book The Library: A World History

Spectacularly Illustrated by Will Pryce, James Campbell’s The Library: A World History, is a profound work of scholarship and source of aesthetic delight, with the wonderful accomplishment to be eminently accessible to all interested in the subject, not just scholars.

True to its coffee table format, the beauty of the photography is what first fills the beholder with wonder. The inner front and back covers are enriched by the plans of the libraries, all named, immediately introducing the variety of this building type in time and space.

This book is like a sumptuous and sophisticated banquet, the setting is magnificent, the table laid impeccably, the Chef’s reputation is renown, and when the food arrives it is absolute perfection. Many courses of just the perfectly sized portions, deceptively simple so that the flavour of each ingredient can be fully savoured by itself and in conjunction with complementary ingredients, challenging preconceived notions and delighting with the unexpected within the familiar. And the substance, oh it is nutritious, full of goodness that enriches, gives strength and keep us healthy! If you have been to the previous Campbell-Pryce banquet, Brick: A World History, you’ll be filled with expectation that will so wonderfully satisfy.

James Campbell undertook this mammoth work of scholarship because there were no books on the world history of libraries. I always remind our students that good books are like the best teachers, not only do they share the fruits of their research, experience and knowledge, but they introduce us to an athenaeum of other teachers. This book is one such treasure. It draws on a huge body of scholarship, all with its specialism, like the pieces of a puzzle, and brings it all together.

James Campbell and Will Pryce travelled the world to document this spatial-temporal journey, and the finished work provides a fully immersive experience for the reader. It dispels some popularly held notions but in return it gives back much inspiring knowledge. The journey starts with trying to reconstruct the real picture of ancient libraries from archaeological remains, and from written and pictorial sources, moving through the ages to much better documented and surviving buildings, 26

furniture, fittings, accessories and practice, and ends with a discussion of the future of libraries in the electronic age.

Many of the libraries in the book have appeared in the case studies and presentations at the conference, so that not only was this book the inspiration for the theme of the conference, but it was also its very backbone that brought it all together as a cohesive whole.

This should be essential reading in library and architecture Schools alike, and the very first book on any librarian’s collection, because this, fellow keepers of knowledge and guardians of wisdom, is our career’s DNA sequencing.

Review by: Carla Marchesan, Prince’s Foundation & Prince’s School of Traditional Arts



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