To prevent their rivals from creating manuscripts for their library, the Ptolemies banned the exportation of papyrus, to which the Pergamum librarians responded by inventing a new writing material... parchment.
Do you really imagine that books can harm me? Is naivete really your armor?
Canada's National Library Month is nearly over, and I never wrote the post I'd intended to write.
I was going to write a little about changes to libraries. About how they started off as state-protected, and carefully gate-kept, reservoirs of knowledge for use by the ruling class. About how technology, private profit, and the middle class combined to create early circulating libraries (circa 1750-1800 in Great Britain and the colonies; perhaps a century earlier on continental Europe) where you could rent a book for a small fee. Then came the great, democratic, public service libraries; the free public libraries founded first through some rich family's gift, and more recently through public funds.
I was going to talk about the widespread closures of public libraries in the States and, less often, Canada. About the idiot op-ed writer for the Irving-owned Miramichi newspaper who, having purchased an eBook reader, argued for an end to wasting tax dollars on paper-book libraries that - he said - no one uses and no one wants.
I was going to link to Jeff Chang's In Defense of Libraries, and pull some interesting bits from Alberto Manguel's wonderful The Library at Night. I was going to write about my own experience with the Saint John Free Public Library - an important friend when I was on welfare - and the sign they used to have: "Libraries will get you through times without money better than money will get you through times without libraries." And about how, later, they helped me host an adult literacy group for a time (see the wrap-up post here).
I was going to talk about the outlaw libraries that popped up at Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Boston. About St. Paul, Minnesota's Little Free Library, Ireland's tiny Library in Lisdoonvarna (photos here and here), and the phone-booth library in Somerset, England (see here or here).
I was going to talk about our work helping organizations and neighbourhood groups establish libraries (seven and counting) and the new seniors' libraries we've begun work on (one in each of five different seniors' complexes). About the Anglin Drive neighbourhood library, a volunteer-run library in a public housing neighbourhood, where they added a storytent program and are now studying our bookwagon document for ways to outreach to the 100 families they want to serve through the winter.
I was, I confess, going to write all this and more, because I thought somehow libraries were in danger; are in danger. I agreed with Naomi Klein's view of libraries under threat. "Sharing is under siege," she said in a speech to the Joint American Library Association/Canadian Library Association Conference in 2003. "It is the sworn enemy of the global market - which is why so much of international trade law is designed to criminalize sharing" (See, "Why Being a Librarian is a Radical Choice").
But preparing for this post, and looking at this spillage of links and photos and stories of grass-root and innovative libraries, I can see that I was wrong. Government funded public libraries may disappear, but in the Western World - I don't know from the East - libraries are here to stay. They have become a mainstream of our culture - of our learning, celebratory, literate culture - and neither banks nor bureaucrats, kings nor elected leaders, will find it easy to put them back under lock and key.