One of my earliest memories is weekly visits to the local public library with my mother and brothers. I would load up on the maximum number of books they allowed us to take out at once and it would just get me to the next Saturday. It was a sad day for me when I realized I had read everything in the children’s section but was still too young for the adult section! But it set my fate as a lifelong bibliophile.
Libraries have provided a critical service for society and culture for thousands of years. The world’s oldest known library was founded sometime in the 7th century B.C.E. for the use of the Assyrian ruler Ashurbanipal in Nineveh in modern day Iraq. The site included a treasure trove of some 30,000 cuneiform tablets organized according to subject. Cuneiform is a wedge-shaped writing made by using a reed stylus on a clay tablet and then letting it harden.
The oldest library continually operating library is at St Catherine’s Monastery, at the foot of the legendary Mount Sinai. It has the second largest collection of ancient manuscripts and codices, just after Vatican City including several unique and important texts, including the Syriac Sinaiticus and, until 1859, the Codex Sinaiticus, the oldest known complete Bible, dating back to around 345 CE.
Our modern libraries help to build literate, productive and engaged communities. They foster literacy of all kinds – a critical factor in economic and social participation that helps to remove barriers to education and employment. By providing safe community spaces, they create healthy communities, and their programming activities support culture and creativity.
Create your own libraries when you can, but don’t forget the vital services provided by your local library!