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Libraries:The Memory of Mankind

Libraries:The Memory of Mankind
Reading Level
     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 9 to 12
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   8.05

     challenging words:    printing, overdue, scribes, hand-copied, shelve, manuscript, mathematics, tremendous, subscription, nonfiction, literacy, reading, priceless, scholar, papyrus, monk
     content words:    Chinese Imperial Library, Forbidden City, Literary Glory, Few Chinese, General Omar, Roman Empire, Dark Ages, Middle Ages, Johannes Gutenberg, Harvard Library

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Libraries:The Memory of Mankind
By Colleen Messina

1     If you traveled back in time with your library card, hoping to check out some ancient books, you would discover that libraries were quite different long ago. Books were rare and valuable, and no librarians encouraged you to take them home. In fact, you would get in trouble if you did!
2     Five thousand years ago in Mesopotamia, the Sumerians tied their clay tablets together with twine and stored them in baskets. Librarians called the Keepers of the Tablets fiercely guarded the books, and you would not be able to check them out because they were so fragile. If you think having an overdue book is bad, imagine having to face an angry Keeper after breaking a clay tablet! At about the same time in history, Egyptian scribes kept track of papyrus scrolls in the temples, but the average Egyptian never saw those books and definitely couldn't take them home!
3     One other spot you would probably visit on a tour of ancient libraries was the magnificent Chinese Imperial Library in the Forbidden City, which belonged to the Emperor of China. However, this library wasn't at all like our public libraries today. If you were a commoner, you couldn't even go into the Forbidden City. If you did manage to sneak over its high walls and into the library, the Imperial librarians would certainly summon the guards to get rid of you! In the Hall of Literary Glory, the emperor studied selections from his 36,000 books. Few Chinese people had access to books 5,000 years ago.
4     The Greeks handled things differently. They gave everyone access to books because they loved learning. Their libraries contained scrolls on all subjects ranging from mathematics to myths. They built the most magnificent library in the world in Alexandria. Alexandria was on the northern coast of Egypt, and the great library of Alexandria existed for more than 900 years. It contained over 700,000 scrolls, which was the equivalent of 100,000 modern books. The librarians wanted their library to have a copy of every book ever written, so soldiers searched all the ships that came into the harbor. When the soldiers found books, they seized them! Library scribes then copied the manuscripts.
5     Invaders conquered Alexandria in 642 A.D. and destroyed thousands and thousands of priceless books. The soldiers asked General Omar what they should do with all the books. The general thought for a moment, and then told them to use the books as fuel for the furnaces that heated the city's public baths! Obviously, the conquerors didn't like to read. Thousands of years of learning went up in smoke. It was enough to make any classical scholar cry!

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