Today I am hosting and kicking off The Book of Life UK blog tour! *Squeals* If you haven’t heard about the All Souls Trilogy, where have you been? Below are the first two books in the trilogy, definitely have a read, you will not be disappointed!
On today’s blog stop, Deborah Harkness will be telling us about why she loves libraries. Without further ado, let’s hand over to the lady herself.
Once upon a time, a man from London wrote a letter to the government about the need for a national library. Many libraries had been destroyed in the previous two decades, and the man feared priceless treasures would be lost unless someone stepped in and oversaw their preservation. He was so dedicated to the concept that he volunteered to visit other European libraries and copy missing volumes himself.
No one listened. The year was 1556, and the man’s name was John Dee.
Mary Tudor was superbly educated herself, but remained unmoved by Dee’s pleas. His conviction that such a library would benefit the nation in incalculable ways did not persuade a monarch facing serious problems at home and abroad including popular dissent, economic collapse, and tricky international relations.
During the reign of Queen Elizabeth he saw a rise in status, but was never as influential as he hoped to be. Nevertheless, John Dee amassed a private library larger and more significant than any institutional library then in existence. He very nearly bankrupted his own family buying books, which he then made available to explorers and intellectuals. When he died, his family sold off the library. The contents were dispersed far and wide. Some were sold to a London baker, who greased the pages and used them to line his tins so his pastries wouldn’t stick.
Despite Dee’s persistent efforts to get someone to pay attention, his dream of a national library did not come close to being realized until 1753, when George II approved the Act of Parliament that established the British Museum. Today, libraries all over the world face closure because of government budget cuts.
As a scholar and writer, I have often had reason to be grateful for British libraries. And I’m not referring solely to the British Library—whose value to me is incalculable. Since 1985 I’ve had the privilege of using libraries in Oxfordshire, Cambridgeshire, and London. When I was living in England as a Fulbright Scholar, the Oxford Central Library provided the books I read at night and on the weekends while the Bodleian Library provided me with the scholarly materials I required during the day. The Oxford Central Library, too, is facing closure.
People say that Britain can’t afford to keep so many libraries open. Politicians and pundits present evidence of declining use, and promise that soon the internet will make libraries obsolete.
Somewhere, John Dee is laughing. He heard similar arguments when England’s great monastic libraries were destroyed. There was no need to keep old records and papers, said the naysayers, or ancient philosophical and religious manuscripts. A new technology was available—print. In 1556, print was the answer to everything much as the internet and electronic books is the answer to everything now. But I still have a pen, and am very glad that nobody pitched the Lindisfarne Gospels into the rubbish on the grounds that “we have a printed book for that.”
I’ve also heard that nobody can be bothered to actually go to the library these days. People stay at home and send their neighbors messages on social network sites like Facebook.
Tell that to a five-year old whose love for the written word is being fostered in their local library, or to a pensioner who doesn’t own a computer. We rely more than we know on libraries and librarians. Libraries are the last magical places on earth, and their staff are wizards who can pull rabbits out of hats when you are desperate to find information on where your grandmother was raised or steer you to the right book to help you understand how to better manage your money. When I stumbled across a lost manuscript at Oxford, it was the Bodleian librarians who helped me piece together how it arrived there, when we lost track of it, and where other copies might be found. It’s not possible for me to imagine a world without them.
The value of a library cannot be measured in the number of patrons who walk through its doors on a given day or the estimated price the collection would fetch should it go up for auction. Bottom-line thinking and outcome studies are useless. Ask yourself this: if your local library has only one patron, and that person renews the same book week after week, but finds within the pages the inspiration she needs to find a cure for cancer, would you consider it money well spent to keep the doors open?
Thank you Deborah for stopping by my blog today! It was a pleasure and if you enjoyed today’s stop, don’t forget to check out all the other blog stops this week as well!
The Book of Life can be purchased from the following places:
Want to know where it all began from? Grab yourself a copy of A Discovery of Witches now and read my review here.