It always surprises me to hear someone make the comment that libraries are about books. Are you surprised that I am surprised? Aren’t libraries about books? Well, not to my mind. Libraries are not about books and have never been about books; libraries are about ideas. Libraries are collections of ideas on many subjects, from different authors, composers, artists, scholars, illustrators and innovators that are transmitted to us in various formats, printed text being one.
We’ve become accustomed to the book as the primary medium for the production, transmission, circulation and dissemination of ideas since the invention of movable type and the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in 1450. In fact, it was the Gutenberg’s invention that allowed for the dissemination of ideas. But for centuries prior to Gutenberg, humans used all kinds of materials to create lasting records of their ideas, even before there was written language.
Some of the earliest efforts of humankind to communicate ideas can be found on the painted cave walls of Spain and France. Experts date these paintings to the Upper Paleolithic Period, some 30,000 years ago. Writing on bone, shells, wood and silk existed in China long before the invention of paper around the 1st century AD. Clay tablets were used in early Mesopotamia. Ancient Romans used wax tablets. Papyrus scrolls were used in Ancient Egypt – more than 500,000 of them filled the Great Library of Alexandria before it was destroyed by fire in the first century BC. In the monasteries of the Middle Ages, monks worked in a scriptorium to preserve parchment manuscripts. Cave walls, bone, shells, wood, silk, clay, wax, papyrus, parchment and finally paper, the history of recording ideas is a long line of innovation. The invention of the personal computer in the last half of the twentieth century has allowed yet another innovation – the digital or downloadable electronic resource. As we move forward into the twenty-first century, streaming digital is becoming another popular transmission medium.
There are books at the library, of course. But there are also videos, electronic databases, streaming content, downloadable digital e-books, digitized resources, compact discs – both for music and audiobooks, software tutorials and mobile apps. We acquire and make accessible all kinds of materials, from print to digital, from toys to STEM learning kits. (We’re even thinking of acquiring a ukulele.)
Today’s library is so much more than books.
Browse our shelves or access our digital e-library content at http://raynhampubliclibrary.org.