Lead Pages and Carbon Scrolls

One of the many books on my sidetable right now is Matthew Battles' Library: An Unquiet History.

It's a bit thick with historical antidotes, but what has become clear to me is that the library as we know it is a very ancient tradition, as is book burning. Leaders, both secular and religious, have always found it necessary to burn books, a clear affirmation that knowledge is power. No culture in history that had writing was immune to its destruction.

Ancient Books with Lead Pages
However, far more books and scrolls were destroyed by nature and the progression of time than by burning. Papyrus dried out and cracked; ink on parchment faded; poor monks and scholars scratched the ink from parchment and vellum to re-use the precious resource. Water and dirt did away with many millions of tomes as well.

A carbonized scroll from Herculaneum.
My own library history is a confused one. As an academic, I love a library. I think all cities need to cherish and support their public libraries. We use our local library weekly.

However,  when I was a kid--a kid of working class roots in a working class town--I felt unworthy of the library, what it represented and what it housed. I was afraid to check out books and often looked at them longingly on the shelves during our library time, but didn't bring them home. There seemed to be a huge risk required to take-on books, because books required intelligence, and I clearly lacked that. We had very few books in our house growing up--an antique cookbook, a few Golden books, ones I made from folded paper--but the main reading material was the newspaper.

Yes, I owned The Pokey Little Puppy.
Books were not of value in that world, which is a world many of my students have all too much experience with.

See more of my 31 days posts.


  1. My dad thought the library was for snobs - all that learning, so he would never take me there. I would say I was going to play at the park and bike the three miles to the library, where I would pick a book and hide in the corner to read. I could never check one out (my dad would never sign me up for a card), so I would write the page number on my hand to remember for the next day when I could sneak back there again.


Please leave your name with your comment. Thank you!