Free Public Library
The Library Book
2:30 – 4:00 p.m.
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 fire alarm. The fire was disastrous: it reached
2000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was
extinguished, it had consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven
hundred thousand more. Investigators descended on the scene, but more than
thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to
Weaving her lifelong love of books and reading into an investigation of the
fire, award-winning New Yorker reporter and New York Times bestselling
author Susan Orlean delivers a mesmerizing and uniquely compelling book that
manages to tell the broader story of libraries and librarians in a way that has
never been done before.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Susan Orlean is an
American journalist. She has been a staff writer for The
New Yorker since 1992, and has contributed articles to Vogue,
Rolling Stone, Esquire, and Outside.
Orlean is the author of several books, including The
Orchid Thief, Rin
Tin Tin, The Ghost
Flower, and The
What has your
relationship with libraries been throughout your life? Can you share some
library memories from childhood to adulthood?
Were you at all
familiar with the Los Angeles library fire? Or any library fire?
How would you
describe the fire’s impact on the community? How about the community’s
In chapter 5,
Orlean writes that books "take on a kind of human vitality." What role do
books play in your life and home, and do you anthropomorphize them? Have you
ever wrestled with the idea of giving books away or otherwise disowning
What is your
impression of John Szabo? How does his career inform and shape your
understanding of what librarians do?
are more than just a building filled with books. How has your local branch
evolved? Are you able to chart these changes and gauge their success within
the issue of street people patronizing the library. How do you feel about
the L.A. library’s involvement, handling of the issue, and the notion of
Andrew Carnegie is
perhaps the most famous supporter and benefactor of libraries. Can you name
a modern equivalent who is using his or her largesse to underwrite public
works? Is it more important for the public sector to have big benefactors or
overall community support?
What was your
initial impression of Harry Peak? Did it change throughout the
What was your
reaction to the Mary Jones and Charles Lummis saga? Can you cite any similar
examples from history or the present?
Each of the head
librarians discussed in The
Library Book brought certain qualities to the position. What
ideas and initiatives did you like? Did you disagree with any?