Harvard College Library

Battles Pens Widener Biography, Harvard Book Store Reading
November 17

Author Matt Battles also created the design and typeset his latest book, Widener: Biography of a Library (Harvard 2004).

November 16 , 2004 - Matthew Battles, coordinating editor for the Harvard Library Bulletin, continues his exploration of the world of libraries with his latest book, Widener: Biography of a Library, released this week by Harvard University Press. The book offers snapshots of the life of the venerable building and its varied occupants from the opening in 1915 through the massive renovation completed in 2004.

The Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library has led a spirited life as Harvard’s physical and, in a sense, its spiritual heart. Originally intended as the memorial to one man, it quickly grew into a symbol of the life of the mind with few equals anywhere. "Widener is a workplace, a classroom, and a lab of the humanities and social sciences; it is the nexus of so many strains of American life," said Battles, in describing his fascination with the library.

That Widener evokes strong emotion is well documented. Wallace Stegner called its stacks "enchanted" Barbara Tuchman called it my "Archimedes bathtub, my burning bush." To Thomas Wolfe, it was a place of "wilderment and despair." Less quantifiable perhaps, but no less daunting, is the library’s life shaping influence on generations. As Nancy Cline, Roy E. Larsen Librarian of Harvard College, states in the book’s forward, "There is no way to know how many individuals’ lives and careers were affected by working in Widener or to comprehend how many have made a mark on the world as a result of what they learned and discovered within its walls."

Commissioned by Cline to mark the historic rededication of the building this past October, Widener: Biography of a Library is not only a record of benefactors and collections; it is the tale of the students, scholars, and staff who give a great library its life.

Matthew Battles, who also recently authored Library: An Unquiet History (Norton 2003), will read from Widener at the Harvard Book Store Wednesday, November 17, at 6:30 pm.



This story appears courtesy of the Harvard College Library Communications Office
Copyright © 2004 President and Fellows of Harvard College