By Priya Vasudevan
The intriguing Story of Libraries……. – a book review
“What is your relationship with Books?”, is a question that a book lover mulls over at least once in a lifetime. If you are reflecting an answer to this question – I am sure you are a book lover and interestingly perhaps you will struggle to find one satisfactory answer. My relationship with books was often defined by the phase of life, I was in – adventurous, romantic, support to livelihood, artistic or mysterious. My home library has over 300 books and how each of them came to me is a poignant memory and a story in itself. Thus, it was with great anticipation that I ordered ‘Spaceship to the Universe – the Story of Libraries’ by Shruthi Rao and Anuradha Jagalur, on the recommendation of a friend.
The authors hold forth a compelling narrative on the codification of culture, knowledge and human experiences i.e. books through a historical, geographic and anthropological perspective. It includes the evolution of the content of libraries – books in the form of clay tablets, bark/palm leaves, then animal skin parchment, to the modern day papyrus (paper) and now the digitised version.
It was interesting to know about some libraries being elevated to a ‘legal deposit’ status – which means every publisher has to send a copy of their published book to these libraries as a repository – a clever way of building the library.
The authors position Libraries as so much more than a collection of books – ‘it is a symbol of society a representation of its culture, history, collective memory and pride. Libraries are symbols of the power of the written word and its ability to inspire people to rally or resist’. The ancient libraries of Takshashila and Nalanda stood out for me and also the painful fact that over 90 lakh manuscripts were burnt by Khilji and his marauding army at Nalanda library. Legend has it that the manuscripts burnt for over 3 months – taking away enormous knowledge on grammar, logic, astronomy, medicine and literature of ancient India.
The authors quickly move on to the not so distant past – of how Libraries lived through strife and adversity. The creative ways in which school girls kept alive their library in perhaps the most trouble spot on the planet – the Gaza strip, heartening stories of the Streetside libraries of Philippines where the free stack of books don’t get stolen (inspite of poverty), and how even today books reach the remotest part of Central America and Africa through boat and donkey libraries not to miss the camel libraries of Mongolia.
What stayed with me however was the valour of book lovers and committed librarians who risked their lives, dodged snipers to hide and save their books, persevering so that the books and the world they contained are preserved for future generations.
Would recommend this book to book lovers and children whom we want to introduce to the world of books.
Priya Vasudevan is passionate about Organisations, Women empowerment and Communities Priya Vasudevan – (the author can be reached at her twitter handle @uniquepv)