I did promise that this weekend I would write about two leaders, Boudicca and Cleopatra, however I am behind on my research. This is mostly due to the amount of information I’ve run across, and getting sidetracked at online bookstores by the multitude of biographies, historical fiction and children’s books I browsed through. Another distraction was biographies, historical fiction and children’s books about other powerful women throughout time.
Since the husband and I had a discussion about our budget, and one bullet point being the number of books that I buy, I spent a deal of time at Overdrive. As a member of three online libraries—a library member for life, apparently, even in places where I no longer live—I had a variety of databases to review. Sadly many of the books I sought to borrow were not owned, or not available as an ebook. Our little local library, which offers curb-side pickup, did not have the physical books. I didn’t look into interlibrary loan because the next library is in the next town and I doubt they share. Or maybe. I don’t know.
So, I thought I’d write about libraries. Public libraries, that is.
In consulting Wikipedia, my number one choice for information at any depth, I had to dig a bit to uncover what I meant by a “library” when I decided on this topic. A library generally keeps a
ollection of the written word, often on a particular subject, or destined for educational and professional users. As you might think, there are many sorts of libraries around the world. The Wiki contributors credit a public library established by a caliph in an unnamed middle eastern nation as the first, around 1000 AD.
This of course begs the question: “What about the Great Library of Alexandria (3rd century BC), or even earlier, the historian and diviner libraries of China’s Sheng dynasty (16th to 11th century BC)?” Given the likelihood of wide-spread illiteracy, and the gap between the ruling classes and the rest of the population, libraries weren’t considered necessary for everyday hoi polloi. It wasn’t until the 18th century AD that the public library became wide-spread, likely as a result of increased reading skills in the rising middle class.
Despite fears that libraries free to the public without a subscription might lead to rampant labor agitation, in the mid 19th century Britain passed a law levying taxes to support public libraries. The same idea was taking hold around the same time in the United States. Rhode Island established a public library prior to the Revolutionary War, but the public library did not become ubiquitous until the end of the 19th century, when tycoons with a conscious—Andrew Carnegie comes to mind—spent a few dollars on nearly 1700 libraries across the nation.
Libraries are sacred ground to most Americans. Librarians achieve a status close to saint-hood. Their vast patience when dealing with the public who visit their books is saintly, indeed, notably when they must tread a fine line between those who use the library for entertainment, learning, access to the Internet, and as a day home—warm, out of the rain, and quiet.
Libraries offer all these things at no charge.
And, as public buildings, libraries, when they expand, can achieve a bewildering variety of architectural design. What follow are a few examples.
Next week, the Queens. I promise.