If a book is an idea, caught and caged in paper and ink, a library is a zoo of every captured thought you can imagine, and some you can’t.
No one knows how long thoughts and ideas roamed around in human heads before someone decided to capture them in on clay tablets 5,000 years ago. Facts proved easy to catch, as did moral instructions, recipes, and divinations; and the earliest still survive on clay, stones, boards, bones, turtle shells, and papyrus rolls. (You can go to this book history timeline to see the ones discovered so far.) Inevitably, people corralled these ideas into collections called libraries.
If a book is a tree you climb to hide among the leaves and listen, a library is a forest full of sound.
From the earliest times, people in power (rulers, rich people, and religious and scholastic organizations) had private groves of books. When the earliest public libraries opened, money and power served as library cards.
The vast forests of books that we would recognize as free public libraries were not planted until the 19th century.
If a book is made of the hours of a writer’s life, a library is a clock shop where you can borrow time.
You walk into a library to kill time. You stroll through the stacks and the title of a book strikes you; then, you look at its face and the small hands grab you. If you are quiet you will hear the soft tick-tock of the words. When it’s time, the book finds you, and if it’s a good book, you have the time of your life reading it.
If a book is a ship that carries you to a place as strange and familiar as home, a library is harbor on an endless sea.
My city library provides me with endless choices for travel on that endless sea of ideas and stories. I always thought it was the only port in town.
Three weeks ago, I found a small boat landing just four blocks from my house, called The Little Free Library. More of a book exchange than a lending library, it offers one more place to get carried away by books. The Little Free Library website provides an interactive map, so you can see if there is one near you. Or maybe you want to put one in your yard. Finding this free box of books prompted me to write about books and libraries. It reminded me how books have changed me, taught me, delighted me, and brought me joy.