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“Loving to read as a strategist”. Episode 25. Libraries matter.

A Merry Cheery Christmas 2022 is coming soon. So far so good, we are honored for your presence, and your reading devotion to keeping up with me, no matter your problems. This little act of reading to me implies that you have decided to spend time learning with us. The fact that you always return to this website, is a pleasing privilege for me. Thank you for keeping up with Eleonora Escalante’s Strategy.

Today we will explore the historic edge of libraries. History matters, as much as libraries. We find history in them. We wish to provoke a discussion about the role of libraries in our times. And why do we need to keep them beyond our knowledge/wisdom reservoir; but as a beautiful place for learning. An unbeatable area for our education efforts. Despite the e-reading book formats that are inundating the internet and our digital amusements.  So, let’s begin.

How did libraries begin?
The history of the library is the history of the places where we, as humans, decided to safeguard our documents (records on whatever type of surface on which we wrote them). Libraries have existed as much as our files or manuscripts have endured their survival (in papyrus rolls or clay tablets or vellum or parchment or codex or paper). All our documents, in multiple forms, evolved from physical heavy clay plaques to light carry-on thin surfaces with the purpose of keeping a physical record of something that was important for us to engrave. For more than 5,000 years we have kept our narratives of data, information, knowledge, and wisdom.

The concept of the library was unlocked when humans started to write. The following paragraphs are our personal summary of a book written by Lionel Casson in 2002 (1). The history of libraries is a topic that transcends our books’ deeds. Clay tablets found in Mesopotamia from an age of around 3,000 B.C.E. have been revealed from the archaeological remains of the Sumerians, the most gifted people that settled in that region (1). Be aware that the Egyptian civilization also kept records in papyrus, but as with any paper, the papyrus’s fragile condition didn´t allow it to subsist to our days.  Sumerians invented a style of writing, in such a way that wedges and lines, and points were incisively able to provoke our sounds in words. From the cuneiform signs, the Akkadians used these word values and fit them into their own language. Babylonians and Assyrians followed. The Sumerian language kept its affluence on other populations because they got the idea to inscribe these symbols in clay tablets, which appeared as a simple primitive form of information: inventories of commodities, bills, deliveries, receipts loans, marriage contracts, court resolutions, etc. All these remains, discovered by the archaeologists, tell us the content, or what they were communicating, and at which level of information: simple bookkeeping. However, as always happen to humans, there were some innovators around who established the creative literature tied to religious ceremonies and scholarly teaching knowledge. Verbally, all these works needed to be put into writing. And that is how human beings initiated the documentation of more intellectual works. These initial brainy and scholar registers (particularly medical and literature-religious related) were the first collections of literary works that were kept handy for consultation.  The definition of the collection for “sources of reference” triggered the concept of the library. With this definition, the organization of the information propelled the library catalog, even though primitive, but demanded. That is how another concept made an entrance: the collections´ categorization. Libraries have breathed since their humble beginnings because of humans’ efforts to organize documents and categorize them into different building blocks.

The Greeks’ appearance arose between 1,600 to 1,200 B.C.E. The epics of Homer were passed through verbally from a reality that was required to be taught. It wasn´t until 900 B.C.E. that the Greeks culture flourished to produce, drama, history, philosophy, and science. The Greeks in contact with the Phoenicians adapted their alphabetic form of writing, and the alphabetic script of the Greeks was established to spread their own literacy.  Athens was the cultural center for those literacy exertions. By the middle of the fifth century B.C.E., the Iliad and the Odyssey, which were composed to be recited, achieved a critical mass of readers, beyond the audiences who listened to them. Schools for teaching Greek literacy couldn´t have been dedicated to some rich and powerful only, but to many more… who were taught to read using the rolls. The Greeks used several materials to write: clay tablets; chunks of broken pottery; wax tablets; and finally, papyrus. They ended up preferring papyrus paper made up into a long roll, using inks. The books for the Greeks were those rolls. “A play by Sophocles or Euripides would fit into a single roll of normal length but a Thucydides’ history would require many rolls” (1).  Can you guess what the library for the Greeks was? Baskets or buckets of leather or wood, specially designed to keep the multiple rolls of long works. Each of these rolls was the original book. Once the unique original set of books from one author was copied into another; the origin of the Greek scribes kicked off. Booksellers (through the first scriptoria business model) as an industry blossomed, around the beginning of 400 B.C.E. Athens booksellers had local customers (a nobility of readers), and aristocratic foreigners from overseas. Then, new and more volumes were added to the market. Resellers, or the secondary market retailers and clients augmented outside of Athens. Dealers from booksellers existed to fulfill the needs and wants of the domestic and the new internationally educated clientele who became collectors of those books.

At that time, Aristotle was the role model of excellence to teach us how to organize his own collection of books, which it was the first of its kind in the old world. It was also the moment in time in which the regulation of books began. Greeks found out that books’ copies could be altered, and there was no quality control over the scribes who were copying the books. That is why the most erudite Greeks, took the crusade to recover the original versions of them. In their quest to guard the original version alive, the Ptolemies were blessed with a region that took Egypt and its resources; the world´s prime writing material (Papyrus). The Ptolemies took the lead to build Alexandria from scratch as the new cultural center for the region. Find the map of the Ptolemaic dynasties on slide 6.  

The first 4 members of the Ptolemies dynasty were intellectuals themselves, and they had the clever idea to gather, more than 490,000 rolls in Alexandria. With the books, the best intellectuals’ luminaries were also taken to this city, those who introduced the library of Alexandria model, organized with an alphabetical order; creating the staff functions required to operate (sorters, checkers, clerks, copyists, repairers, page controllers, etc.). It was during Alexandria´s growth splendor period, that the first dictionaries and glossaries were designed and produced. Alexandria´s library lasted until 48 B.C.E. Some historians have affirmed it was destroyed by fire; meanwhile, others affirm that the lack of intellectuals leading the library, when the Romans took the spotlight (Romans took over Egypt in 30 B.C.E.), conducted it to decline. In the year 270 C.E., “emperor Aurelian, engaged in bitter fighting in Alexandria, burned the palace area where the museum and the library were terminated” (1).

Alexandria´s library role model was so enlightening for several centuries, meanwhile, there were other royal libraries arising during these Hellenistic times in Athens, and other cities. Libraries were connected to gymnasiums (or educational centers). Alexandria’s library rival, the library of Pergamum also had come under the control of the Romans around 133 B.C.E, when these conquered the kingdom of the Attalids. Later, in the early decades of the second century C.E., Athens also developed two new libraries located in Pantainos and Hadrian. The Roman Empire’s western lands also showed us two additional libraries irradiating the region in the Latin language: Carthage (with its respective educational center) and Thamugadi (Timgad) in Trajan, Algeria.

Subsequently, over the next centuries, when the papyrus rolls were replaced by the codices, we joined the era of our modern books’ look and feel.  The codex of parchment (leather in many folds) in form of a notebook is the consequence responsibility of Rome, the book trade center in Latin works. Nevertheless, the substitution of papyrus wasn´t automatic. It took 500 years to evolve from the papyrus rolls to the codices.

Libraries are like lights in the darkness hanging from a tree. . Illustrative and non-commercial image. Used for educational use. Utilized only informatively for the public good.

By the beginning of the fifth century C.E., the Roman Empire was splitting into two halves: each ruled by its own emperor. The Western with its capital at Ravenna or Milan; and the eastern part with its capital at Constantinople (later called the Byzantine empire). See slide number 7. In both, Christianity emerged as the prevailing religion. Christianity elevated religious subjects as the predominant concern for societies. Secular texts were put aside, meanwhile, the predominant trend were the Christian Authors.

The western part of the Roman empire was characterized by invasions, wars, insurrections, and anything that was “barbarian” taste. Italy and its private or public libraries as a heritage from the prosperous days of the Roman Empire disappeared town upon town. When the Ostrogoths took it in the 6th century, Rome was shrunken and ravaged, not just in population but also without funds to support libraries anymore.  On the other hand, the eastern part of the roman empire was able to spare barbarian invasions and remained stable up until 1,453, when the Turks completed their conquest with the capture of Constantinople. The top libraries of the eastern roman empire were in Constantinople: One linked to a university; another one at the palace for the royal family and the civil service; and the third one, a theological collection, the patriarchy’s library.

The monastic communities played a role behind their walls in the Western part. These monasteries began to keep some of the ancient writings from booksellers (dealers) or noble collections, who followed the role model or example of Cassiodorus. Cassiodorus is a key figure in library history. Cassiodorus coming from a family of note, decided to found his own Vivarium monastery. See Slides 8 and 9. He embraced a religious option after a career in the government service. He composed the book “Institutiones” in which he alternated the importance of sacred and secular literature, intertwining both aspects in the culture of humankind. He also stated the relevance art of manuscripts. For Cassiodorus, the art of writing was one of the highest ones to realize by the monks, including the maintenance of libraries that might expand knowledge. This shift convinced the monasteries to install a new industry: they set up scriptoria, built research libraries, and resorted to interlibrary loans to expand their knowledge holdings. By 612 C.E., less than a century after Cassiodorus´ death, other religious leaders from other monasteries founded scriptoriums and libraries, not just in Italy, but Switzerland, Germany, and many other western European places.  Most of what has survived writings in Latin and Greek from the ancient world comes from those monasteries. “Nearly all the monastery’s manuscripts passed in various ways – copying, gift, sale, theft, looting- to form the core of the most important libraries of the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance.  These libraries founded by scholars, such as Petrarch, or by nobles who gloried in collecting them, such as the Medici Family; marked the opening of the new age of the library history, as it has been developed up to our days” (1).

What has happened to libraries since the Renaissance? Even though the libraries were evolving to become more complex and sophisticated. Gutenberg disrupted the monasteries’ works with the press and the prints. It wasn’t until 4 centuries later, that the paperback versions of books were sufficiently vast to reach the majority of the population. Andrew Carnegie (Slide 12) saw immediately that public libraries were not a luxurious want, but a need for those who couldn’t afford books or who didn´t have beautiful places to read. One hundred years after Carnegie passed away, a sociologist, Eric Klinenberg has recently honored the libraries again.  His book “Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life”, is a reminder of the importance of libraries as spectacular spaces for encounters across cultural, ethnic, generational, and social interaction. Klinenberg offers the term “social infrastructure”, as the geographic spaces that play a crucial role in the social life of cities. Parks, schools, community centers, and libraries are included.  Eric Klinenberg goes a step further: “To restore civil society, start with the library”(2).

This was the library where I spent hours and hours studying, meanwhile, I was a student at Cornell University, New York. I was able to study there because I won a Fulbright Scholarship from The American Embassy of El Salvador.

The optimum model library. The future of the library is the future of us. During the whole saga, I have written several aspects of the importance of libraries and bookstores. Nevertheless, today I will end up this article with a piece of testimonial evidence.

The libraries are the expression of how each of our societies holds together. These must be measured beyond the number of books, but as a learning space for interaction with our own and others. Libraries are a sign of how well-intertwined a society is. Libraries are a sign of how well governments understand the wants and needs of their societies’ learners. A public library in a city or in a community is not just the barometer of the literacy status of that place, but the social location that serves us to be acquainted as humans that deserve to be educated (after school) in the best place we can find. A place that cherishes our individuality for making our learning process a delightful experience, a location in which we can learn and interact as members of a community. When I was a Cornell University student, I adored going to study at any of the many libraries available on campus. My favorite one was the S.C. Johnson Management Library, which was recently built. I had the tendency to stay there long hours, sometimes late at night, studying from paper books and taking notes.  There was no comparison between studying at that library and my dark cold dorm room. That library was designed not just for learning or reading books, or for doing homework, or writing papers, or for making calculations on our notebooks. These library spaces have been designed for interaction, to say hello to other classmates who were doing the same, to ask questions, or to do a little chit-chat effort for socializing in between our pauses of studying. This library at Cornell was jam-packed with students, all the time, at any hour. It was the best place to study on Campus, and I adored being there after my classes. By the way, for those who are not aware, I was able to study at Cornell, because I won a Fulbright Scholarship, granted through the American Embassy of my hometown.

The best libraries on earth are learning centers, and are always cherished by the same communities who utilize them.

Announcement: Our next Friday´s publication is “The core of the strategist mind”.

Illustrative and non-commercial image. Used for educational use. Utilized only informatively for the public good.

Strategic Music Section.

Music Reading chill-outs

Today´s musical reading counsel is about libraries matter. If libraries (by any chance) are abolished or wiped out of the earth; if that happens someday, be sure that will be the sign that as a human civilization we have lost all the ground that makes us humans who share solidarity. If that occurs, that will be the consequence of losing our humanity, at expense of the technologies. Once that happens, hopefully, it won´t; that will be an alert of the decay of our convictions. If future generations choose to vanish our libraries, that only will show how cruel we have become by neglecting the beauty of the best learning spaces to those who can´t ever dream to own them at their homes.

More than 80% of global citizens in the world do not have a pretty place to study, not during their K-12 formative years, not during University or after it. Libraries (particularly community libraries) should always be the best place where everyone can go. Not just to read, or find a book or information, but as our perfect study rooms, an establishment in which all of us can acquire knowledge. Regardless of the design details, libraries must always invite us to visit these spaces for acquiring knowledge. These spaces should be better than what we find inside a precious lavish castle: the best feasible social infrastructure for learning.

Our music for reading today is a collection of relaxing piano solos of traditional Christmas carols arranged and performed by Peder B. Helland. Merry Christmas! His Youtube channel is Soothing Relaxation.

See you next Friday 9th of December with the 26th episode of the saga “Loving to read as a strategist: The core of the strategist mind”. Thank you for reading to me. Blessings.

“Loving to Read as a Strategist”. Illustrative and non-commercial image. Giphy source from Nazaret Escobedo

Sources of reference are utilized today.


Disclaimer: Illustrations in Watercolor are painted by Eleonora Escalante. Other types of illustrations or videos (which are not mine) are used for educational purposes ONLY.  All are used as Illustrative and non-commercial images. Utilized only informatively for the public good. Nevertheless, most of this blog’s pictures, images, or videos are not mine. I do not own any of the lovely photos or images posted unless otherwise stated.

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