Written by James WP Campbell and featuring stunning photography by Will Pryce, "The Library: A World History" (published by Thames & Hudson 2013) explores the evolution of libraries in different cultures and throughout the ages. It investigates how technical innovations as well as changing cultural attitudes have shaped the designs of libraries from the tablet storehouses of ancient Mesopotamia to today's multi-functional media centres.
Read on for some insights from the book and more of its beautiful photography
From those clay tablets of ancient times, the book catalogues some medieval libraries where the heavy, precious manuscripts each had to be chained to an individual table. The invention of the printing press meant that books became easier to handle and more widely available, leading to the more familiar format of shelving stacks we know today.
With the ability to collect a wide range of books, an extensive library became a symbol of status for wealthy people - and the design of the rooms that housed these collections changed to reflect this, with outlandish baroque designs proliferating in the 17th and 18th centuries.
In the modern era, libraries are facing a challenge from the world of digital media, and many physical library buildings are seeing their usage decline. This has led to a shift in the functional purpose of new libraries, with many incorporating cafes, art galleries and theatres in an attempt to get the public to reconnect with the library's civic purpose. It has also caused controversies such as Norman Foster's redesign of the New York Public Library. According to the author, there is also now a "lack of confidence in the word 'library'" resulting in projects such as Brandenburg University of Technology’s "Information, Communications and Media Centre".