here’s just something about a library — its well-thumbed, plastic-sheathed bestsellers and dusty shelves of obscure treasures, all just waiting to be picked up and enjoyed you. And then someone else, someone you may never meet. A library brings readers together into one space to share, exchange, and unlock the secrets of books. Oh, and it’s absolutely free to use.
“There have always been entrepreneurial librarians,” he noted in an email to The Huffington Post, “such as those who ran circulating libraries in small crates for lighthouses in the 19th century or who used pack horses to carry books in the early 20th century — but more recently the idea that the library can come to the reader … seems to have become more pronounced.”
Libraries also featured in another aspect of his family life. He met his wife while at Oxford. “We often worked together in the Radcliffe Camera,” he remembered. “It has very fond memories for me.” That and: “Before they give you a card there as a student, you have to promise not to kindle flame inside it, which is also rather endearing.” A practical measure, perhaps, but also the sort of charming institutional quirk that belongs to the world of libraries, rather than e-readers.
Improbable Libraries documents libraries carried on camelback, dangling from trees and in good old-fashioned buildings; Little Free Libraries and libraries built for one. There are libraries designed to overcome a lack of infrastructure and governmental support, and libraries designed to capture readers easily distracted by their smartphones and Kindles. Whether it’s a bicycle delivering books or a serene literary retreat, these institutions remind us of the ineffable power of holding a book in your hands and seeing the signs left by previous attentive readers — a power digital texts can never replicate.
The photos in Improbable Libraries give a glimpse at a present, and hopefully a future, in which libraries remain at the heart of our shared literary culture.