Where to start? My first encounter with a library was at age 4 when my mother took me to the little Carnegie Library in our hometown.
The building had a lower floor reserved for children’s books. The children’s librarian (who seemed old to me but was probably decades younger than me now) discovered that I liked animal stories so he always kept one or two for me.
So why did a library come to mind as I write today?
The CEO and I enjoyed a delightful program with the new Loveland Loves to Read.
The gap between a library activity in 2022 and my encounter in 1943 closed in an instant.
This experience in the library facilitated my transition to a “child of words”. I wonder how many other children have felt this influence through the millennia since the first libraries.
Of course, I started with a small cardboard library card because each book had its own charge card. My friendly librarian of decades ago would never have guessed 21st century electronic procedure.
Going back in time, the first libraries appeared in the fertile crescent of Southwest Asia, known as the cradle of civilization. It was the cradle of writing around 3000 BC.
These artifacts were written in cuneiform on clay tablets – try checking five or six of them against the five or six books I used to consult every week in elementary and middle school.
Regardless, these were private libraries primarily for commercial transactions.
The concept of libraries continued to evolve; some at Nineveh around 700 BC. reflected a classification system – not Dewey’s dismal system.
Ashurbanipal’s library at Nineveh contained over 30,000 clay tablets – old Ash must have been a voracious reader. Among his collection were “Enuma Elish” (also known as “The Epic of Creation”) and “The Epic of Gilgamesh” (he was in the epics, possibly Cecil B. DeMille of that time) .
Moving straight (slowly), the Library of Alexandria in Egypt was the largest and most important large library in the ancient world.
Then the Greeks came into the picture, but their libraries were all personal or private, consisting of written books – no sharing.
After them came the Romans and these guys created the first public libraries under the Roman Empire.
Each successive emperor strove to open one (or more) that surpassed his predecessor – I don’t know if these could compare to the coloring books seen in a few of our presidential libraries.
There is a lot to be said about the Roman Libraries, but I will choose not to say it except for the unique feature where readers had direct access to the scrolls.
Some libraries actually censored content – can you imagine that?
Then the churches got involved and the monasteries had their own libraries, carefully copied by hand.
Thomas Jefferson was a guy who loved books and read a lot of them. He was an avid collector and by the time he was a minister in France in the 1780s he had collected thousands of books for his library at Monticello.
It was lucky because when the first attack on the Capitol took place in 1812, the British burned it and the Library of Congress. Tom offered to sell his collection to Congress.
The deal was for 6,487 volumes at a price of $23,950 in 1815. This was about $3.50 a book for the hardcover editions, which was not a bad price at the time.
Through this transaction, Jefferson established the principle of acquisition for the Library of Congress.
The library in 2022 is the largest in the world with over 17 million books.
By law, the Capitol Hill Library must receive two copies of every book registered for copyright in the United States.
My “TrivBits” is somewhere on a dusty shelf over there.
Jefferson’s was, of course, private.
America’s first public library opened in Boston in 1653. The first public library supported by taxes – oops, that’s the word – in the United States was located in Peterborough, New Hampshire in 1833. It was housed in a general store, which also acted as a post office (small town).
Libraries continued to evolve, and in 1839 the American School Library was one of the first traveling libraries on the frontier.
In the years following the Civil War, there was an increase in the establishment of public libraries, mostly run by newly formed women’s clubs. By bringing their own book collections, conducting fundraising and lobbying within their communities, they have fostered the establishment of 75% to 80% of libraries in the communities.
Their enthusiasm spread and late 19th century philanthropists such as Andrew Carnegie entered the field.
Carnegie alone built over 2,000 libraries in the United States and over 660 in Britain.
And that brings us back to the entry into this subject with my recollection of my introduction to a library.
Some skeptics say that with the advent of the Internet, we no longer need libraries.
I say, “Libraries are divided into fact and fiction. I have not observed this distinction on the Internet. Libraries are staffed with qualified professionals. The internet is…”
So, I agree with some of my taxes to support libraries. The country needs more informed people whose source of information is not politically tainted.