A Bibliophile’s Utopia

Today wraps up National Library Week, and I just happen to be named Patron of the Month at my local public library.  So I found this to be a perfect time to highlight the value of libraries and library workers. Libraries play a crucial role in the transmission of knowledge from generation to generation, yet sadly go frequently ignored.  Not so in my family. On one recent visit, a helpful staff member joked that they were going to name something after me. Actually I owe them – a debt of gratitude.

While libraries in the digital age now offer CDs, DVDs, CD-ROMs, e-books, and other electronic media, I still prefer the physicality of a book. And even though card catalogs have been replaced by on-line catalogs, I have fond memories of looking through the cabinets of drawers with the smudged and dog-eared cards pressed in tight.

Think libraries are dull?  Do you, like some, even question the meaning of the library itself? The library is an enticing treasure, far from the film cliché of the gloomy library. Browsing the stacks in my community library is on old-fashioned delight, regardless that it is a hundred times smaller than most research or university libraries. Libraries have grown and evolved over the centuries to serve their communities. Here are a few facts about library history you may find interesting:

  • The codex, or bound book, came into use during the Christian era in Rome. Prior to this, ancient libraries were filled with scrolls of papyrus. Christians introduced them to Rome from the early church in Palestine, Egypt, and Greece.
  • Pope Nicholas V set the standard for library building in the Renaissance, although he did not live to see the Vatican Library fully established. (Incidentally, my daughter, Rebecca, is visiting the Vatican Library this very weekend!)
  • In the first centuries A.D., the libraries of Alexandria sought to compile and contain the entirety of Greek literature, along with the most significant works of many foreign languages. With their communities of scholars, the Alexandrian library became a prototype of the modern era university.
  • The BIble made up the bulk of the typical medieval library, followed by the works of Augustine, a staple of medieval reading.
  • Harvard College began its life as a library that reflected the Puritan beliefs of minister, John Harvard.
  • As libraries blossomed, the additional medium of pamphlets and journal arrived in torrents.
  • The public library movement swept western Europe and America in the 19th century.  In preceding centuries, libraries held a relatively small number of books and were exclusively for the elite.

Are you lacking intellectual energy? The library card has been compared to a visa to the world of books. Go stimulate, nourish, and invigorate your mind by taking a trip to your local library. But beware: High literary culture has taken a backseat to the cheap and tawdry. You must do the choosing. Choose well, my friend. Remember the yearning for a book began with the Bible. There are limitless spiritual rewards to its study.

Oh, and one more thing as you go about your journeys: Be kind to your local librarians! (They especially like cookies.)

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