Purpose of this Blog...

You may have noticed that not all books are equal in capturing children's imaginations and in cultivating those innocent, tender souls. My goal is to help you find the ones that do!
(Painting by Mary Cassatt: "Mrs Cassatt Reading to her Grandchildren" -1888)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

How A Monastery in Prague Led Me to Learn More About the History of Libraries...

Strahov Monastery
Two Decembers ago, my husband and I were being shown the sites of the charming Czech city of Prague by our oldest son, David, who was there doing a couple of semesters abroad at FAMU (the Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts).

View looking down on the city of Prague, from the Monastery.
Before our travels I had come across photos on the Internet of the Strahov Monastery and its library, high on a hilltop overlooking the city, and I put it down as a must see for our trip...

Strahov Monastery Library

"Peace, awe, order, and curiosity". Those are the words that came to mind as I stood staring into the doorways of two of the most beautiful rooms I had ever seen!

Philosophical Hall

Walls lined with shelves, full of old books, above which were gilded wood carved decorations and ceilings splashed with frescoes: The Halls of Philosophy and Theology at Prague's Strahov Monastery Library.

Theological Hall

The library collections contain approximately 200,000 volumes, stored in the halls and adjacent depositories.  Many of the works were printed between 1501 and 1800.

Our visit to the monastery library that day left me wanting to explore more about the history of libraries. They've certainly come a long way over the centuries, these days often looking more municipal than museum-like, but they will always be an integral part of our history, culture, and communities.

Our view upon leaving Strahov Monastery. 

Here's what I found...


From the start, civilizations needed some some type of repository for their written works. The first "books" (mainly public records) were inscribed with a stylus onto clay tablets by the ancient Mesopotamians.  Some of the ancient library archives had shelves built in the walls to stack the tablets; others employed the use of baskets or earthenware jars.
In time, literature developed - epics, myths, science, and history.  I’m sure most of us were assigned in school to read the Epic of Gilgamesh, the ancient Babylonian creation story, which was originally recorded on clay tablets! 
In ancient Egypt, papyrus scrolls were used to write on. These were most often stored with labels attached, so the whole scroll wouldn’t have to be unrolled in order to identify its contents. 
By 600 BC in ancient Greece, the first public libraries (in beautiful structures built by leading citizens) - as well as private and personal libraries - were beginning to flourish, with large collections of both fiction and non-fiction works inscribed onto parchment rolls. 
The Chinese imperial library has a history dating back to the Qin Dynasty (221-201 BC). The first library classification system in China was established during the Han Dynasty.   The library catalog during this time was written on scrolls of fine silk and stored in silk bags.
Beginning in the second century in Rome, literature, science, and technical information began to be recorded onto wax coated wooden boards, which were stacked and then bound. These bound tablets became known as "codex", with parchment eventually replacing the boards.
New libraries emerged in monasteries of Europe during the Middle Ages, concentrating on acquiring and copying manuscripts in the codex form only (as opposed to on scrolls).  
With the invention of the printing press by the German, Johannes Gutenberg, around 1440, mass-produced books in codex form became widely available to everyone - not just royalty, the church, and scholars.
In recent years, with the increased use of the Internet to gather and retrieve data, we are now witnessing the birth of books in electronic digital format on a glowing computer screen - “virtual” books.  As we advance forward into this digital age, let’s not leave behind our past!
You can be sure that the gradual shift to e-books and digital libraries will greatly impact our culture and communities.  Traditional book lovers and library enthusiasts like me can't help but wonder how e-books will transform our physical experience with real books and our visits to libraries.  After all, these original archives were “physically communal” places, not “digitally communal” files or websites. 
I am sure time will work out the balance of "e-books" and traditional “real” books (and the library structures that house them).  Through the digital world we have so much information at our fingertips, but how can we possibly resist the physical aspects of books: the touch and feel of pages to be turned, the smell of ink and paper, and the shelves where these friends are neatly stacked?

Whether you frequent modern libraries in order to borrow books, do research, have a quiet place to read, or so your kids can enjoy story time and use the Internet (for free!), don't forget to also visit historical libraries - both in the U.S. and around the globe.  They are beautiful preservations of art and architecture, as well as "home" to books.  I plan to visit libraries for the rest of my life.  How about you?  

Source for the historical information in this post: The Library: An Illustrated History, by A.P. Murray.
Detailed information about the history of the Strahov Monastery Library can be found here.


  1. This is simply stunning! Those ceilings!

    Prague has been at or near the top of cities I most want to visit since I was 16.

    1. I hope you can go someday - it's like "anywhere, Europe" - the architecture there has a little bit of everything! Lots of influence from many different cultures and time periods. And the food is WONDERFUL! :)

  2. Hi, I am Kokila from http://sunshineandblueclouds.blogspot.in/I am a book blogger who loves travel,movies and life... You have a nice blog here and I am glad I found you :)
    ..Thanks for the amazingly beautiful pictures, the roofs, scenery and the info, specially the 'codex' ... Wonderful!