Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Library Book: The Story of Libraries from Camels to Computers

The Library Book: The Story of Libraries from Camels to Computers

Maureen Sawa
Illustrator:  Bill Slavin 
For ages 9 and up
Tundra, 2006   ISBN: 978-0887766985

Though it might be hard to imagine, long before there were books - as we know them today with covers and pages - there were libraries. In ancient times scrolls, tablets and parchments were collected by monks, men of power, and intellectuals to form libraries. One of the most famous such repositories, the library of Alexandria, had thousands of papyrus scrolls which were carefully tended by library staff.

In medieval times scribes who probably worked in a monastery developed the first book with individual pages and a wooden cover. Such a “codex” was much easier to read and to store than a scroll. At this time paper was still not in use in the western world so the pages were made from parchment. Each book had to be laboriously written out and illustrated by hand, a job which often took many months. For this reason books were very valuable and only the church and the wealthy could own them.

A great step forward took place in the world of books when Gutenberg invented the first moveable type printing press. Now books could be printed off in their hundreds and more people could afford to own them. Private libraries sprang up all over the place both in people’s homes and in seats of learning.

It would be many years however before libraries for the public were created. These institutions opened up all manner of doors for people who now could borrow books with ease and who could thus explore the world through the written word.

Today we have libraries which are available in cyberspace. Using these extraordinary places people from all over the world can read books online, look at precious volumes stored thousands of miles away, and gather information of all kinds.

This fascinating book not only tells the story of libraries but it also tells the stories of books and of the people who have loved them. We get to meet, among others, Benjamin Franklin, Andrew Carnegie, and Alexander the Great. In addition to the main text and the annotated illustrations the author has also included informative boxes which cover a range of book and library related topics of interest.