The Paris Review

The Strange Magic of Libraries

Carl Spitzweg, The Bookworm (detail), 1850.

Our era is a digital one, to be sure, but libraries of physical books are still holding on defiantly, even triumphantly. According to the Library Map of the World, there are over two million public and school libraries on planet Earth. Of these, 103,325 are in the U.S. and 12,570 in my native Australia. Globally, the number of private libraries is much larger still—because who’s to say that even a humble shelf of Penguin or Pocket paperbacks doesn’t qualify as a private library?

The census of American libraries spans a wonderful diversity of institutions, from modest municipal book rooms and mobile libraries to the grand collections of is an emotion often expressed toward libraries, and not just for National Library Week. Libraries are places in which people are born—as authors, readers, scholars, and activists. (Think Eudora Welty, Zadie Smith, John Updike, and Ian Rankin.)

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