LIVE from NYPL: The Library: A Fragile History

Date and Time
December 8, 2021
Event Details
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Historians explore the contested and dramatic history of the library, from the famous collections of the ancient world to the public resources we cherish today.

Book jacket for The Library: A Fragile History by Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen

Famed across the known world, jealously guarded by private collectors, built up over centuries, destroyed in a single day, ornamented with gold leaf and frescoes or filled with bean bags and children's drawings—the history of the library is rich, varied, and stuffed full of incident. In their new book, the first major history of its kind, historians Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen survey the antiquarians and philanthropists who shaped the world's greatest collections, trace the rise and fall of fashions and tastes, and reveal the high crimes and misdemeanors committed in pursuit of rare and valuable manuscripts.

In a conversation moderated by historian Jane Kamensky, Pettegree and der Weduwen discuss the fragile history of libraries, and the complex legacy of collecting.

The program will be streamed live on this page. If you encounter any issues, please join us on NYPL's YouTube channel.



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Here are some recommendations for further reading from Andrew Pettegree, with a brief explanation of each book in his own words:
  • Reading Publics: New York City’s Public Libraries, 1754-1911, by Tom Glynn — NYPL Catalog ; Bookshare
If you want to know why New York was comparatively late in building a public library network, Tom Glynn’s magisterial study of the library culture of New York before the building of the NYPL is the book to read. A meticulous and profound introduction to a city filled with readers as it was transformed into a diverse economic powerhouse in the nineteenth century. In the mid-twentieth century public libraries the world over faced an existential crisis: not from bombs and armies, but from innovation in the publishing world: the paperback. From the foundation of Penguin Books in 1935, readers were seduced by the ability to buy quality literature at a fraction of the hardback price, and libraries struggled to react. Molly Guptill Manning here describes one of the most remarkable paperback initiatives, the American Armed Services Editions, which brought books to American troops throughout the world, and made some lifetime readers in the process. Why is it that in this digital age, so many of us continue to prefer print? Perhaps we are obeying the dictates of our brain. Maryanne Wolf, a trained neurologist, makes a passionate plea for the importance of print in preserving deep reading and critical thinking.


Andrew Pettegree, FBA is Professor of Modern History at the University of St Andrews and Director of the Universal Short Title Catalogue. He is the author of over a dozen books in the fields of Reformation history and the history of communication, including Reformation and the Culture of Persuasion, The Book in the Renaissance, The Invention of News, and Brand Luther: 1517, Print and the Making of the Reformation.

Arthur der Weduwen is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of St Andrews and Deputy Director of the University Short Title Catalogue. He researches and writes on the history of the Dutch Republic, books, news, libraries and early modern politics. He is the author of Dutch and Flemish Newspapers of the Seventeenth Century, The Bookshop of the World: Making and Trading Books in the Dutch Golden Age (coauthored with Andrew Pettegree) and two books on early newspaper advertising in the Netherlands.

Jane Kamensky is Trumbull Professor of American History at Harvard University and the Pforzheimer Foundation Director of the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at Harvard Radcliffe Institute. Her most recent book, A Revolution in Color: The World of John Singleton Copley, won four major prizes and was a finalist for several others. A former Commissioner of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, she serves as a Trustee of the Museum of the American Revolution, and as one of the principal investigators on the NEH/ Department of Education-funded initiative, Educating for American Democracy. 


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