There are a ton of stunning libraries in the world today. Germany has some beautiful ones, and Prague has a particularly spectacular one. There’s a hilarious one in China where many of the shelves just have paintings of books rather than books themselves — the real ones are stored in separate rooms. It really makes me wonder about the amount of effort that went into amassing such collections. It had to take dozens of people years, decades, and in some cases centuries to build them up. Another place that would be fascinating to visit would be Jarrow Abbey, home of the great scholar Bede. It sounds like there might actually be quite a bit intact on the site, despite the Viking conquests. In history class learning about the destruction of libraries or other stores of written material was always pretty devastating. A couple that stuck with me were the burning of Mayan books during the Spanish conquest of Mexico, and the burning of the library at Alexandria. But today with the onset of the digital age libraries are under a lot of pressure, too. I know at Stanford one of the big libraries was knocked down and turned into a park-like area. Libraries take up a lot of space and require a lot of effort to maintain, I guess, and when so many digital resources are available from anywhere an internet connection exists, it can be hard to argue for them. But I don’t think libraries are going to disappear anytime soon. Lots of people still appreciate the feel of a real book, and there are so many things that just aren’t available anywhere else, like rare manuscripts or the wonderful little moments that happen when you find just the perfect thing while browsing.
I just ordered a few more books online, so I have a delightful little package that will arrive on my doorstep this week. Getting new books is always exciting for me, and I feel like my little library is developing pretty nicely here. I didn’t bring many books with me when I moved from North Carolina — when you’re trying to fit your life in your car, there is only so much space for the written word — but I’ve since acquired a pretty satisfactory set of reading material. I don’t need any prodding to work on building up a book collection. Pondering my own bookshelf and the effort that’s gone into filling it certainly yields a sense of appreciation for libraries though. I always eagerly awaited the next trip to the library when I was a kid. My parents often had to convince me to put some books back when we were there — I would always accumulate this huge stack of books to check out, and they knew I couldn’t possibly read them all. One of my favorite memories is when they took me to a huge public library in San Francisco. I was just overwhelmed! Seeing other libraries around the world would be exciting, though I have yet to do much exploration on that front.
I know I’ll always love libraries, and I hope to find my way to more around the world. It really makes me proud to know that countless numbers of these temples to knowledge exist and have their doors open to the curious.
A view from Fort Funston, a place of great views and many dogs