Monday, September 16, 2013

Two libraries - preserved and preserving our heritage

As we consider the history of libraries, we recognize that many from the ancient world do not survive. In fact, many collections of tablets, stone, and papyrus materials are records that document legal and administrative matters, such as the collections at Ebla, Tel El Amarna, and even the Linear B tablets found in Knossos and Mycenae. There are several wonderful books about the discovery of these collections and the decipherment of their records. The most recent is by Margolit Fox The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Codewhich describes the discover of Linear B tablets and their decipherment by Alice Kober and Michael Ventris. These tablets contain annual inventories of goods shipped and received at administrative centers in the ancient world (1800-1400 BCE).

We have all heard about the Library at Alexandria, founded by Ptolemy Soter and expanded by rulers in Egypt, burned by Julius Caesar, expanded by Marc Antony and Cleopatra, burned, expanded, and finally destroyed so that there are no scrolls or codices, merely archaeological ruins buried under the modern city in Egypt. One library that survives and is still being recovered is that at Herculaneum 
The city was destroyed when Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 CE spewing lava and ash over Pompeii and Herculaneum. Today, using refracted light and much patience, scrolls uncovered in the late 1700s are being digitized and preserved. The National Geographic video describes how the papyrus scrolls are unrolled and read today.

Down through the ages, libraries have come and gone, some surviving and still in use like the Vatican Library that we discussed, others disappearing, known only through comments in the literature, letters, and historical references. Many of the national libraries today are working separately and jointly to preserve the historical record. The Smithsonian Libraries is one example. Again a very nice marketing video talks about the vast collections at the institution.

How does your library document its history? What does it collect that documents and preserves the history of your community?

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