Sarah Bakewell at The Financial Times:
In 1338, the library of the Sorbonne in Paris had 1,728 manuscripts in its register, 300 of them marked lost. In 2013, the British Library has almost 100,000 times as many: around 170m items, with 3m more streaming in every year. The explosion of demands made on libraries is dizzying yet some elements remain constant: acquire good stuff, keep it safe, make it findable, and give readers a pleasant environment in which to consult it. Sounds simple.
James Campbell’s new history of library architecture, with spectacular photographs by Will Pryce, takes us on a global tour of how these requirements have been fulfilled over the years, from the clay tablet storehouses of ancient Mesopotamia and the beautiful repositories of Buddhist sutra blocks and paper prints in Korea and Japan, to the grandiose designs and multimedia extravaganzas of the 21st century. One recent example came too late to make the book: the £189m Library of Birmingham, which opened last month. Designed by the Dutch firm Mecanoo, and featuring an art gallery, cafés, theatre, restaurant, terraces, children’s area, media centre and herb gardens, it stretches the meaning of the word “library” to its limits, although, somewhere inside it, you can find books, too.