The Libraries Are Burning...

My friend in Memphis went to his high school reunion.  The number of attendees have gone down over the years as you can imagine.  When you are in your mid-70’s the folks tend to fade away. He was talking to a friend about this and the guy said “When someone dies it’s as though a Library has burned down.”

Whoa. That gives me pause.

You know someone well. Someone who knows stories about you when you were younger. Someone that has watched you grow older and watched you change over the years.  You take their presence for granted at some level and then they die.  We all do.  Suddenly, all of that precious information they had in their minds and hearts about you-is gone.  Just like that.  The Library of knowledge has burned down. Whether it be to a death, a divorce, a move or an estrangement.   It got me thinking for sure.

I am a reader. Reading helps me. It helps educate, connect and inform me.   I started thinking about Libraries.  When I was young we went to the Library and took out books. I was fascinated that there was a “Dewy Decimal system” although I didn’t feel the need to learn it. Just interested that it existed. There was a system to the Library that felt somewhat reverent. Maybe because Libraries were so quiet and women typically operated the local Library back then. They seemed a bit scary to me. Spinster types with glasses and a mean look if you uttered a sound.  However, I loved going to the Library.  I loved the books, the magazines and the newspapers.  I liked the musty smell it actually did feel like a hall of learning.

 One of the most famous Libraries that burned was the Library in Alexandria.

“Ptolomy II Soter, founded the Museum or Royal Library of Alexandria in 283 BC. It was a shrine of Muses modeled after the Lyceum of Aristotle in Athens.  The Museum was a place of study which included lecture areas, gardens, a zoo, and shrines for each of the nine muses as well as the Library itself. It has been estimated that at one time the Library of Alexandria held over a half million documents from Assyria, Greece, Persia, Eqypt, India and many other nations.  Over 100 Scholars lived at the Museum full time to perform research, write, lecture or translate and copy documents. The Library was so large it actually had another branch or “daughter” Library at the Temple of Serapis.”

-Dept. of History, Ohio State University

There are several theories as to how the Library burned. The most prevalent is that Julius Caesar burned it by accident as he pursed Pompey into Egypt.   Caesar ordered the ships in the harbor to be set on fire. That fire unfortunately spread to the city where the Library stood.

Another theory was that the great Library over time was destroyed by budget cuts over the years.  Doesn’t that sound familiar.  You can read that theory here.


This last theory seems true even today when money gets tight institutions like Libraries lose funding.  Questions like how can we fund the Library, museum, symphony, theater or other such activities if we can’t feed our people?  My personal opinion is these places and activities are the cultural pulse of the country. They represent the heart and soul of our homeland. Libraries are places we can learn about culture both past and present. 

“Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.” 
― Walter Cronkite

 The thought of the Great Library of Alexandria burning and the catastrophic loss of scrolls, lectures and information of that time is devastating. In that Age it was a constant fight for territory.   It was a take or be taken fight and when a new regime came in, the old was burned.  Check out this list of Libraries that have been destroyed over the ages even into modern times.  The latest being 2015 burning of books by ISIS in Mosul Iraq.   So they did what conquering people do; they burned 8,000 manuscripts.    The burning of Libraries is incredibly sad to me.

“Don't join the book burners. Don't think you're going to conceal faults by concealing evidence that they ever existed. Don't be afraid to go in your library and read every book...” 
― Dwight D. Eisenhower

But Alas, we still have our libraries today.  Effie and I were out walking one day and stumbled upon this small library in the front of someone’s yard.  The sign said “Celebrating Healthier Neighborhoods”.

I loved it!


I continued on my thinking journey about Libraries and became concerned about the future of Libraries.  With the internet and information being so readily at hand, do we need them?  The more I read the more I realized there are many types of Libraries. Not only public Libraries but private ones as well.  Private Libraries tend to provide specialized information about specific things.  I like that. 

Going back to my friend in Memphis—People are Libraries.  We may hold our own or another’s words, deeds, ideas, thoughts, songs, writings, stories in our hearts and minds. Sometimes someone has such a vast knowledge of something it truly is like a Library has been burned when they depart from us. Maybe those of us who have these memories would consider writing them down or recording them for other family members so the Libraries don’t completely burn down when someone leaves.  There is a group of people who started an organization called “The Human Library”. It is a very interesting concept about a Worldwide Movement for Social Change.  It was developed so real people could have real conversations.  Fascinating.


I finished my contemplation by asking what the Libraries of the future will look like?  In the NOW here are some exciting Library technologies that are being tested. This includes: book delivery drones, digital interfaces for print books and Library Utensils. Interactive digital walls an example being Hunt Library at NC State for collaboration and other such cool stuff.


Visualization Lab at NC State University

Visualization Lab at NC State University


At the end of the day I believe Libraries will THRIVE with new technologies. They will go back to being like Alexandria where collaboration, arts, music, writing will take place. One article said  we will have ONE library that is a network across the country so it can’t be burned. Using digital technology, we can access this Library from anywhere with our electronic Library card.

To make a comparison, my heart hurt when Blockbuster disappeared. Because of Netflix and streaming we have no need for those types of stores any more.  Libraries are really cool places overall.  I want them to exist and thrive not go the way of Blockbuster.  I like reading about how they will make digital changes and deploy other technologies so that our populations can benefit. Especially those among us that cannot afford to purchase these things ourselves.  I venture to say a more informed person makes better decisions.  There should be a Public Library with the latest and greatest technologies so we can all benefit. I look forward to the evolution of the Library—new methods, new products, new ideas evolving into something profoundly interesting and educational. 

I will end with this quote:

A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert.” 
― Andrew Carnegie

Until next time.

Peace out.


Ps:  No post next week. Back to it on the 27th.