A Library By Any Other Name…

What is a ‘library’?
My grandson asked me to read a YA book, the first of a series. It started out not much to my taste, (unlike so many other he has chosen), but it picked up to be interesting after a while. However, this nearly made me put the book down: The author didn’t know the definition of a ‘library’.

In a nutshell, the story is about a young woman in a medieval-esque world. She was within a castle under coercion. She asked for a tour, a rouse to go looking for a means of escape, when she saw large doors and asked the guard showing her around what they lead to. “The library”, came the answer, and when he opened the doors, she was astounded at the immensity of it, the off-shooting halls and the amount of volumes within them. She asked about taking books with her, but the guard told her that it was forbidden. That night, she wrote to the crown prince, (with whom she has had dealings) and remonstrated with him by saying that the ‘library’ was not a library at all, but only a collection of books to be read by the king and other occupants of the castle.

Gosh, you’d think an AUTHOR would know that that is exactly what a ‘library’ is: a collection of works, usually of books.

It was perhaps not a ‘lending’ library, but such an entity is relatively new. Actually, the idea is only a couple of hundred years old.

There have been collections of ‘books’ as long as there has been anything remotely considered the written word; in a nutshell, they have been LIBRARIES. Most were royal libraries, as people who could scribe at all were few and far between, and writing more than likely started as ways to keep records. There was also the question of media, (clay tablets, chiseled stone, animal skin, papyrus, rice paper, wood paper, etc.), none of which was easily obtained and was always expensive.

Soon, stories and ideas were put down and the wealthy wanted to have their own collections of ‘books’. Actual schools, academies and universities began and all needed collections of writings, (‘books’), and all of those became libraries. These were not usually opened to the general public, even if the public in general could read, which was almost never the case. And certainly, few of the tablets, scrolls, books, etc., could ever be taken from the libraries, even by students. I can guarantee you that no one had a card that allowed them to take scrolls from the great library at Alexandria, one of the Eight Wonders of the Ancient World. (Although, with enough money and influence, you could have scrolls copied for you to own.)

I remember having to do my own version of pictures from the text of my history books when I was in grade school. Only a few stick in my mind. The first was of Chinese scholars hiding scrolls under the floorboards before the soldiers, who were closing in, arrived. It seems the emperor at the time ordered all written record of earlier times to be destroyed, so that all history would then begin with him. I had to choose that one; the idea of the destruction of so much history  and the bravery of the scholars struck me deeply.

Another picture that I recreated (badly) was of a monk-scribe painstakingly copying a (literal) manuscript. [“manu”-by hand/“script”– written.] His years of work could not go unappreciated by me.

(The only other I remember copying was the Indians teaching the Pilgrims to fertilize their corn with fish, but I digress.)

Both the scrolls and the manuscripts were from LIBRARIES, but ones from which no one had means to borrow.

From the start, and to this day, there are private libraries. My books are my library, as are yours. There are buildings containing libraries which are not open to the public. Some are private, some for members only, some are for students of the universities, colleges, and the schools in which they are contained. Go ahead; try to walk into a public school and attempt to check a book out. You can’t do it. Libraries around the world may let you in to read, but you can’t remove the books from the building.  There are even such books in your local public library; you must know that reference books cannot be checked out.

Sometimes there are rare books that you can’t take from the shelves and you must have authority or permission even to see them within libraries,  libraries where you may usually borrow books. I have ‘borrowed’ books from a distant library only to have to read the book at the library I used for the loan. (This happened with book I had wanted to see for almost  two decades. The library said that they tried to call me when it was in; they didn’t or they didn’t leave a voicemail.I had just a couple of days to get there to see the book. I didn’t get my hands on it for long.)

Benjamin Franklin is often credited with inventing the lending library system. Technically, he didn’t. He got the idea form his travels into Scotland, where towns often either pooled their money for books, or individuals purchased them, and they were communally owned and read. They were passed around to whomever wanted to read them and apparently, most people did. It was very democratically done, with everyone from the blacksmith and his apprentice, to the lady of the manor and her maids, to the shop girls and the vicar, reading whatever came to town and discussing the work in passing with anyone they wished.

We can give Ben credit for making libraries a bigger and better idea in America, with books bought to be loaned.

A collections of book is, by definition, a library. Collections of music are ‘libraries’; collections of tapes, Blue Rays, DVDs are ‘libraries’, but that doesn’t mean that just anyone can walk into my house and take out any from mine.(However, you may come on over! Anyone willing to read through this is welcome to borrow anything from me!).

Why doesn’t the author know this? Why didn’t her editor change this? Why do they teach this misconception to their young readers?

It was a library; the protagonist had no grounds for the argument that it was not. Taking the prince to task over the ability to take books from the shelves to other parts of the castle was commendable.

She won.

Good for her!


About Tonette Joyce

Tonette was a once-fledgling lyricists-bookkeeper, turned cook/baker/restaurateur and is now exploring different writing venues,(with a stage play recently completed). She has had poetry and nonfiction articles published in the last few years. Tonette has been married to her only serious boyfriend for more than thirty years and she is, as one person described her, family-oriented almost to a fault. Never mind how others have described her, she is,(shall we say), a sometime traditionalist of eclectic tastes.She has another blog : "Tonette Joyce:Food,Friends,Family" here at WordPress.She and guests share tips and recipes for easy entertaining and helps people to be ready for almost anything.
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4 Responses to A Library By Any Other Name…

  1. Jeff Salter says:

    Excellent historical survey.
    A few other notes: at one point monks actually chained their precious books to the tables so they could not be removed. Also, along the evolution of what we know as public lending libraries… were reading rooms and small libraries created and maintained by trade unions for their members. Not accessible to the public, however, merely to members of the appropriate group. Also, somewhere in the chronology fits the subscription libraries — similar to those of the trade unions and other groups, but accessible only if one had the money to “subscribe”.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Patricia Kiyono says:

    Glaring errors like this make it difficult to take the author seriously. I wonder if the book self-published. I’ve met (online) so many authors who say they’ve had a relative read it, or someone who’s an English teacher, but refuse to pay a qualified editor.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Exactly not every library is a lending library. I know mine isn’t, thoughif I have a book someone wants to borrow and I trust that person I will make an exception.

    I have to wonder if this author even hired an editor.


  4. Elaine Cantrell says:

    Well, that was a definite error. She needed an editor. I do love libraries, by the way.


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