FROM ALEXANDRIA TO SWORDS IN A BRIEF SCROLL

by Fingal Libraries
by Fingal Libraries on November 17, 2014 in Libraries

If you lived in Alexandria, Egypt, in the third century BCE, you’d be in the vicinity of the largest library in the known world. Not that you’d have access to it, unless you were a scholar, writer, copier, or one of the slaves assigned to collect and replace the tablets and scrolls of papyrus that […]

If you lived in Alexandria, Egypt, in the third century BCE, you’d be in the vicinity of the largest library in the known world. Not that you’d have access to it, unless you were a scholar, writer, copier, or one of the slaves assigned to collect and replace the tablets and scrolls of papyrus that constituted the collection. Like many of today’s libraries, there were meeting rooms and lecture halls, but on an extensive scale. The library was part of a larger learning institution called the Museum of Alexandria.

Old Library of Alexandria

Ancient Rome had its special learning libraries, but it also allowed ordinary Romans to cultivate a mens sana while keeping their corpus sanus in the public baths. As you dried, you could read one of the scrolls made available for free. The core principle of the library, the provision of information, has changed little in fact, but its media and scope has changed a lot. The copying of manuscripts, for example, was a laborious task and the authentication of texts a huge issue, but since the Middle Ages, printing and other technologies have made information more readily available and verifiable.

Roman Papyrus Scroll

Ireland’s first public library, Marsh’s, opened in 1707, but the public lending library as we know and love it came into vogue in the 1800s. Up to then, books were mostly to be consulted on location and were often chained to the desk. In the past fifty years the phenomenon of the Internet and expanded visions for education and social inclusion have meant that all libraries now comprise both a flesh and cyber component to their organism. Taking this a step further, a library in Texas is the first paperless library in the world. E-readers and e-books are borrowed rather than physical texts, and patrons have access to 48 computer stations, 10 laptops and 40 tablets (of the non-ancient, non-medicinal kind).

Texas, Bexar County Digital Library

Today, the New Library of Alexandria is dedicated to recapturing the spirit of the original Bibliotheca Alexandrina. As well as millions of books, it has an Internet Archive, several specialised libraries, four museums, a planetarium, an interactive digital cultural database, a 3-D simulating system, several academic research centres, and hosts a number of institutions, such as those for science, medicine, librarianship, environmental economics and women’s involvement in science.

New Library of Alexandria

Swords Library may not be as large in scope or space as Alexandria, and it might be said that certain remnants of the traditional remain (slaves who retrieve books from the shelves, and reading while you dry) but it’s very much tuned to the new. Community-based, it offers the available information in all the media, access to the Internet, wi-fi, talks, courses, and a meeting-place for various self-edifying groups. We host many school visits and will welcome all comers for a social evening with a poetry reading by our resident poetry workshop on 18th December next. Unfortunately, as yet, no baths.

By Swords Library Bloggers