When considering the crucial role played by libraries in promoting societal well-being and the years of cuts — financial, staffing and operational hours — to our local and state libraries, we ought to go sit in our gardens before winter arrives. “Did you know that there’s a natural antidepressant in soil? It’s true,” according to “Antidepressant Microbes in Soil: How Dirt Makes You Happy,” an article from GardeningKnowhow.com by Bonnie Grant, a certified urban agriculturalist. “Mycobacterium vaccae is the substance under study and has indeed been found to mirror the effects on neurons that drugs like Prozac provide … and may stimulate serotonin production, which makes you relaxed and happier.”
When ready to roll in the dirt, I reflect on successful libraries, like the first one I ran in Seguin, Texas. Last year they opened a gorgeous new Leeds Gold certification-rated library with oodles of meeting space where android creatures like us inform themselves and interact together comfortably. Seguin’s home to the World’s Largest Fiberglass Pecan, and when a dozen old pecan trees had to be removed for the library, they harvested and used most of the wood throughout the building.
Then there’s Sweden’s “bokbaten,” a floating library sponsored by the Stockholm Library that hires the boat twice a year to deliver print books to people inhabiting 27 Swedish islands. Residents can request the books they want, and the bokbaten arrives with 3,000 well-chosen titles, much like our local bookmobile arrives packed with cherry-picked materials and specific items requested by customers who have trouble getting downtown.
One such book recently bookmobiled to me in Ester mentioned Theophrastus, an important figure in library history. Theophrastus was Aristotle’s favorite pupil and inherited Artistotle’s library, which was founded when the philosopher inherited his father’s books. Aristotle assiduously collected every book around in fourth century BCE and wrote 106 as well. His is considered “the first great library of antiquity,” according to AncientPages.com. When Theophrastus died in 287 BCE, the books were bequeathed to his star student, Neleus of Scepsis, whose descendants were ignorant about preserving them and buried them in a crypt where they rotted.
Two centuries later, Apellicon of Teos, a wealthy, cut-throat bibliomaniac arrived. Like true bibliomaniacs, Apellicon wanted to possess a great library, not read it. As his contemporary Strabo, the Greek historian, put it, Apellicon was “a book lover rather than a lover of wisdom.” He “not only spent large sums on the acquisition of his library, but stole original documents from the archives of Athens and other Greek cities.” Apellicon learned of Neleus’ hoard, bought it and then filled in the destroyed sections of the books with his own thoughts. Nonetheless, he rescued them from certain oblivion and had copies made. Soon thereafter the Roman general Sulla conquered Athens, confiscated Apellicon’s library and handed it to his personal librarian, Tyrannion in Rome.
Tyrannion always duplicated Sulla’s best books for his own library, and these copies were used by Andronicus of Rhodes to produce the basic Aristotelian works that inspired the Renaissance and we read today. None of those ancient libraries were quiet places; silent reading was unknown. Everyone read aloud and they could be rather raucous places. Modern perceptions of libraries as silent bastions of learning should be forgotten, because good public libraries are usually quiet and noisy. A catalog recently offered “The Library Quiet Tabletop Fan” for $80 that “produces a maximum 38dBA — the noise level of a quiet library.” That’s between whispering and babbling brooks, according to NoiseHelp.com. That doesn’t sound like our vibrant, joyous public library, where children laugh, grown-ups ask questions, and friends meet and catch up. Instead of enforcing whisper laws, our library allows normal conversation on one side, and limited or no chatting on the other for those who need quiet to think. It’s the best of both worlds.
Always lurking is the rapid deterioration of our public libraries’ hours, staffing and services inflicted by recent borough administrations, despite it being the most popular borough institution with over half the borough population possessing library cards they’ve used in the past two years. As the Dalai Lama said, “The roots of all goodness lie in the soil of appreciation for goodness.”
Greg Hill is the former director of Fairbanks North Star Borough libraries. Contact him at 479-4344.