The Library

Good grief, it’s been a few years since I was in a library. They still have books, and the Dewey Decimal system. I overhear the librarian giving a tour, something is wrong with Mr. Dewey, but they still use his system. I am curious, I will have to Google the issue.

Sitting there, waiting for grandchildren to find books, I flash through what I know about libraries.

I know the first libraries didn’t have shelves, they had wine rack tilted boxes. It was easier to place scrolls in them. Not sure how many scrolls per box. I seem to recall the scrolls were sorted by subjects that sound alike. Also, the scrolls were tied by strips of linen or leather, with the author and subject written on them. Still, this made searching very difficult, and no real index to let you know where on the scroll specific information was written.

I member something about a classical education included reading, writing, and arithmetic… but also memorization. You were to imagine going into your memory through doors into a room, turn right to see, wine racks with scrolls with the data to memorize, then continue to fill the walls of the entire room.

Then I remember the loss of great libraries, like Alexandria, or Pompei. Something about hanging the burnt scrolls with small weights to the edge, and letting gravity slowly unrolling the scroll over months.

Of course the big invention of the Greeks and Romans to made codices. Folded sheets of parchment, written on both sides, then signatures sewn together to make a spine. The “book” could then be on shelves, with information written on the outer spine. What joy!

And inside you could have a table of contents, with page numbers, and at the end you could have an index. If only they would have spaces between the words, or simple punctuation. Son of a gun, they started having that too!

Eventually, during the Middle Ages, one of the largest libraries was owned by the Jean de France, duc de Berry, the King’s brother. He had slightly over 200 books! He had one copy of everything available, and in order to have more, he purchased the Limbourg Brothers to make more books. Everything worked well for about a year, everybody living in the same castle until the Plague came and killed all four of them.

200 books! I might have that in the back of my car! Oh yes, Melvil Dewey was a racist bigot who harassed women. He died in 1931 and his library medal was renamed in 2020!

I was also surprised to find a nice piece of sculpture on display made by my friend, Susannah Israel. Then turning a corner there was a display of Nancy Rubin’s Humans of Berkeley, photos of men with their kids/grandkids. And there was Semaje and I taken ten years ago.

It was a good day at the library!

About johndiestler

Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
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