Public libraries come in countless shapes and sizes but they are rapidly disappearing, indeed we seem to move back to the time of the fall of the Roman Empire, when historian Ammianus Marcellinus (330-395) wrote in despair,
Libraries are closing forever, like graves. In our schools the singers have replaced the philosophers.
The roots of all failure or greatness of Nations run deep and far, but the deeper roots seem to be linked to a simple fact: not investing enough money in culture, teacher’s wages, good schools, research centers and workshops. It is cutting down libraries that makes a society lose direction and memory.
The main danger facing libraries’ existence today come not from ebooks or the internet but from actions which lead to change their pristine functions. They perish when they are no longer pools where the memory of our society is collected; when they are no longer workshops where the tools necessary for understanding our existence are provided. Diodorus Siculus (1st century BC) wrote that on a lintel of the entrance of a library he visited in Egypt saw the words: “Clinic of the Soul.”
Speaking of the soul, let me note that the Vatican has the keys of eternal life on his flag, but it is the Vatical library – with an history stretching back to Ancient Rome – which represents the keyholes.
The number of libraries closing down for lack of founds is increasing rapidly in all developed countries. In Britain, 300 have been shut in the past decade alone. The ex-Mayor of Toronto, Robert Ford, was planning to close all the public libraries but they were saved thank to a campaign led by Margaret Atwood. Will they survive the next assault mounted by another mayor in the coming years?
I do not have precise data in hands but my guess is that one of the most affected country is France, a giant in the publishing industry during the XVII and XVIII centuries, which is liquidating all its ancient books on the cheap side – being written in French their offer far outstrip their demand – how do I know? I know because I am buying (rescuing) hundreds of French books of the XVII and XVIII.
Libraries, with their budget cuts and staff made redundant, in a desperate struggle to survive, have transformed themselves into social centers, restaurants, video and music platforms. But they cannot survive just borrowing books and hosting authors’ presentations. The millennials, those born with the silver spoons in their mouths, don’t care about them and if they don’t care now they will not preserve them when they will grow up. During the last decade, the very concept of library has lost its ancient functions and symbolism: by now they are just seen as dusty warehouses full of decaying books, which are not worth the money necessary to maintain and preserve them.