Copyright © 2003 Henrietta W. Hay
April 11, 2003
Marshall McLuhan said that the medium is the message. Wrong. The
message is the message and it has been since the beginning of time.
It's the medium that has changed.
This is National Library Week, a good time to think about the message
and the almost unbelievable change in the medium.
My favorite Information Store is still the best buy in town. You know
it as the Mesa County Public Library. It has been serving our community
for over a hundred years and is looking forward to another hundred.
There is a long history behind it.
The urge to record events and preserve records is not a new one.
It started with the cave men. While the women were busy trying to cook
dinosaur meat over the newly invented fire, the guys were chipping out
pictures of themselves and their activities on the walls of the cave.
The earliest known library was a collection of clay tablets in Babylonia
in the 21st century B. C. Thousands of inscribed tablets have been
found in that region, recording such items as law, commercial
transactions and even poetry.
I can't resist repeating the story of my favorite ancient library, that
of the Persian vizier Abdul Kasem Ismael in the first millenium A. D.
He traveled with 400 camels who carried his 117,000 volume library
everywhere he went. The animals were trained to walk in an order that
ensured the manuscripts were alphabetically arranged.
Alexander the Great had a great dream in the 5th century B. C. -- that
of unifying the world. It sparked the idea of constructing a great
library which would gather the cultures and civilizations of the whole
world. Its location was Alexandria, Egypt, at the crossroads of the
three continents of Asia, Africa and Europe. His enemies didn't think
much of his dream, and the library was burned to the ground by marauding
armies over the years.
Later the Egyptians discovered that you could write on papyrus, and
eventually paper came into use. This does make modern libraries a bit
less bulky, although shelvers are not completely out of danger. One day
one of them reached for a copy of Canterbury Tales and got hit by a
Then came Johannes Gutenberg in the 15th century and invented movable
type. The BOOK was born.
The first public library in the United States was opened in Salisbury
Connecticut in 1803 with a gift of 150 books from a resident of the
The concept of the free public library today is a far cry from a
collection of clay tablets in Babylon. Andrew Carnegie wrote, "There is
not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public
Library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor
wealth receives the slightest consideration." He donated money for 2800
libraries in this country, including the first library building in Grand
Junction back in 1903.
Today there is another medium for the message -- the Internet, the
World Wide Web. We now have at our fingertips a library that is many
times the size of the largest libraries the world has ever known.
Public libraries all over the world immediately welcomed this new
information machine, knowing how much it could improve their service to
The medium has gone from caves to cyberspace. Abdul Kasem Ismail had it
easy. He only had 400 camels and 117,000 volumes to worry about. Our
librarians today have to handle everything from Mother Goose to the
World Wide Web and make the information available to us.
But one thing I think we can predict. No matter how human knowledge is
stored-- in books or cyberspace -- people will come together in a place
called a Library. The library is often referred to as the heart of the
As social beings we want not only to access information, but to be with
others engaged in doing the same thing.
Your library -- books and much more. Let's celebrate Library Week.