It is no secret that without shelving there would be no libraries. Libraries are fascinating places steeped in a history that goes right back to when Neanderthal men had to carve stone shelves out of the sides of their caves to ensure that their food was well out of the reach of predators.
The very first libraries were set up at the request of kings, rulers and holy men and the storage of the written word started way back then in temples where laboriously handwritten texts, which were viewed as being holy and sacred, were kept on shelves. Leaders and rulers of countries needed to preserve their records in writing and kings required these documents to ensure that their legacy lived on long after they were gone.
Libraries were established by the Babylonians and the Egyptians. The Babylonians wrote in cuneiform script on clay tablets and the library of the Assyrian King, Ashurbanipal, who ruled Nineveh from 669 to 629 BC, was discovered in archaeological digs in 1849. This particular library racks contain thousands of catalogued clay tablets that could be read by the citizens, indicating that they were a highly literate people. Excavations after 1929 at Ras Shamrah (otherwise known as Ugarit) in Northern Syria revealed a library that contained hundreds of clay tablets that date all the way back to 400 BC.
In Egypt clay tablets were replaced by papyrus for writing and each temple had its own library where the papyrus scrolls were stored on racking systems that were specially built for this purpose. Few of these libraries still stand today but Hieroglyphics are commonly found in the funereal tombs where dry conditions have preserved the papyrus scrolls from deteriorating and rotting. As we are all aware the walls of pyramids and tombs carry much information that has enabled us to learn about the world of the Ancient Egyptians. The Temple in Jerusalem was an archive for holy documents and writing was created on scrolls that measured up to eight metres long. At first papyrus was used but parchment eventually replaced the papyrus.
The famed Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1956 which is a priceless collection of information which dates back to 300BC to 68BC. The next time you browse through the racking at your local library which we all take for granted, say a silent little prayer of thanks for the privileges we are able to enjoy, the knowledge we can share and the literate society we are so proud of being.