Destroyed Libraries

Every once in a while, I think of the Library of Alexandria and I feel like weeping. By ancient world standards, this was the grandest library of its time. At its height, 100 scholars worked therein, and it may have housed up to 400,000 scrolls.

The thing about the loss of this library is that no one knows for certain what caused it. Was it a fire started by Julius Caesar, or was it some combination of a fire, looting, and just a long steady decline? Nor can we know for sure what irreplaceable scrolls were lost. What knowledge, what history… how much more advanced would we now be if we still had this information? This amazing library definitely existed, and now it doesn’t. That breaks my heart in two.

If that isn’t tragic enough, you can go to Wikipedia’s list of destroyed libraries, and you’ll see that Alexandria is just a tiny drop in a horrific bucket. Libraries have been destroyed, either accidentally or intentionally, for centuries.

Of course, earthquakes, floods, and fires happen. And when a fire breaks out amongst books, there’s plenty of fuel. What doesn’t burn is often ruined by smoke and water damage. These things can’t be helped.

But what I really can’t stand is when a library is destroyed by the actions of humans. Wars, looting, religious fervor, hate crimes, and ignorance abound. Nothing pisses off a radical like the existence of knowledge. The Nazis loved burning books. So does ISIS.

One library was destroyed because if it contradicted the religion in question, it was heresy, and if it agreed with that religion, it was redundant. So it was put to the torch without even being examined.

It amazes me that so few Americans really know about the War of 1812. In that one, the British Troops destroyed the entire Library of Congress in Washington DC.

But the one that shocked me the most was one I hadn’t heard about until doing research for this post. It was the Libraries of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. It happened in 2013, and insanely enough, it was done by the Canadian government, under prime minister Stephen Harper. This one is too outrageous to paraphrase. Here’s what Wikipedia had to say:

“Digitization effort to reduce the nine original libraries to seven and save $C443,000 annual cost. Only 5–6% of the material was digitized, and that scientific records and research created at a taxpayer cost of tens of millions of dollars was dumped, burned, and given away. Particularly noted are baseline data important to ecological research, and data from 19th century exploration.”

Come on, seriously? This is disgusting. I don’t know if I am more emotionally impacted because it is so nearby in both time and location, but why on earth don’t we know better by now? Why are we so afraid of knowledge? Why?

My only hope for the future is that as more documents are digitized, they’ll be much harder to destroy.

Incendie_Alexandrie_by_Hermann_Goll_1876
Incendie Alexandrie by Hermann Goll, 1876

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An Unexpected Ego Boost

I was at home, sound asleep, when I got a phone call from my boss the other day. She was calling to let me know that StoryCorps was trying to track me down. I was intrigued. Why on earth would StoryCorps be contacting me?

For those who are unfamiliar with this amazing organization, I’ll quote directly from their website: “StoryCorps is one of the largest oral history projects of its kind. Since 2003, StoryCorps has collected and archived more than 50,000 interviews from more than 80,000 participants. Each conversation is recorded on a free CD to share, and is preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.”

So I called the contact number and identified myself. They wanted to talk to me about a StoryCorps interview I did back in 2009, in which I talked about what it was like to be a bridgetender. It seems that their next anthology will be “Callings”, a publication about interesting jobs that people are passionate about, and they are considering including my interview in that book, which will come out in 2016.

The woman I spoke to couldn’t guarantee that my interview would make the cut, but if it does, they’ll send me a copy of the book. Even though they had the rights to the interview already, they wanted to establish contact with me for fact checking purposes.

Finding me must have been no mean feat. Since 2009 I’ve moved at least 5 times, have long since changed my number and e-mail address, and now live 3000 miles away, on the other side of the continent. That, to me, says they’re really interested in using my interview. Time will tell.

Either way, I’m extremely excited. There’s nothing quite as delicious as having your routine disrupted by an unexpected and unbelievably gratifying event. Isn’t life grand?

The StoryCorps booth. An  exciting and historic place to be.
The StoryCorps booth. An exciting and historic place to be.