The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections by Eva Jurczyk

As someone who grew up in libraries and now works in one, I am always interested when a new book about libraries is published. Eva Jurczyk’s debut novel was my latest read about libraries and the people who work there! While it wasn’t what I expected, I enjoyed the story that Jurczyk weaved about the integration of old and new and how that impacts the library world.

The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections by Eva Jurczyk is an interesting look into academia and the librarians that work behind the scenes to support that world. Univeristy libraries are vastly different than public libraries. The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections as presented in this novel is more similar to our Richardson Sloane Special Collections Center at the Main Library, but deep down, university libraries are simply libraries and the librarians that work there feel the same about books as librarians everywhere else.

In The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Jurczyk discusses the mystery of closed stacks, ancient books, and the institutional knowledge that staff hold, as well as the secrets held by books and staff alike. Liesl Weiss has worked at the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections for years since its inception. Now Liesl is on the brink of retirement. She is actually on sabbatical working on writing a book(about books of course) when she receives devastating news: the director of the library has suffered a stroke and Liesl has been called back to run the library until he recovers. Liesl has been comfortable working behind the scenes managing details, but now working as the director, Liesl discovers that she can no longer stay in the background.

As she begins her new job, Liesl makes a shocking discovery: the library’s most prized and most recently purchased manuscript is missing. Liesl wants to alert the police and sound the alarm, but when she voices her wishes to the administration and other library staff, she is repeatedly told that reporting to the police is not an option. She needs to keep quiet in order to keep the donors happy. This decision requires Liesl to do some maneuvering to keep up appearances that everything is fine. That façade comes crashing down when a librarian goes missing as well.

Liesl must investigate both disappearances and what she discovers proves to her that someone in her department is responsible for the theft. She digs into her colleagues’ pasts to find out who could have done so. She eventually reaches out to the police and together they work to find answers. Liesl finds out truths about the people she works with that shakes her belief in the library, but that proves to her that changes must be put into place to preserve the library’s past, present, and future.

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