Widener: Biography of a Library,

by Matthew Battles
ISBN: 0674016688

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A Review of: Widener: Biography of a Library
by Greg Gatenby

Any bibliophile will savour Widener: Biography of a Library by Matthew Battles. The Widener Library at Harvard (named by a loving and wealthy mother for a book-loving son who perished on the Titanic) is one of the world's greatest book repositories. Battles has penned a history of both an edifice and an idea, for while the recounting of its construction and expansion are of some passing interest-for example, John Singer Sargent painted murals for its entrance-the larger attraction is Battles's smooth delineation of how a library should buy, collect, and catalogue. Such seemingly mundane stuff is crucial, of course, as anyone knows who has had to use a library for research. Given that he writes of an academic institution, the author's prose is refreshingly free of academic jargon. And the book is no unqualified paean: The years of botched handling of the computerization of Harvard's library holdings is schadenfruede for Canadians who admired, in contrast, the smooth transition to the computer age of Robarts Library in the 1970s, the only Canadian collection which rivals Widener in size and depth.

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