Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 337
The Library Book includes a surprisingly colorful cast of characters. One is Harry Peak. A would-be actor, he claimed to have started the April, 1986 fire that burned down the Los Angeles Public Library, the largest library fire in United States history. A flamboyant serial liar, Peak threatened to bring a criminal investigation down on his head when he told friends the fire was his doing. He was never charged with the crime, and the fire was later proven to have been started accidentally, but not until after Peak had earned his fifteen minutes of fame.
Another unusual character from the 1980s who crossed path with the library was Gene Scott, a pastor who organized a 1987 fundraising telethon to help rebuild the library. Scott, who managed to raise millions for the library's cause, was no ordinary pastor. He was known to preach using profanities and smoking a cigar, while women in bikinis danced behind him.
Going back in time, a more decorous character was Mary Jones, the first head of Los Angeles Public Library to have actually earned a library degree. She ran the library for five years, from 1990-1905. Jones was pioneer, well ahead of her times, who hired black librarians and tried to bring racial diversity to the library's holdings.
The Board replaced Jones with one of the library's most colorful figures, Charles Fletcher Lummis. A journalist and publicity hound, Lummis had walked to Los Angeles from Ohio dressed in red knee socks and knickers. Once established in California, this serial womanizer was chosen to run the library instead of Jones, although he had no qualifications to do so, and she clearly did. As head of the library, Lummis had an iron brand made by a blacksmith which he used to brand books that he deemed pseudoscientific. He also had warning labels pasted into books that he believed were of inferior quality. After he was eventually fired, he wrote to a friend that he had masculinized a feminine space, turning a "Sissy Library" into a "He-Library."
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