Books, libraries and change

By Michael Penrod, Special to the Sentinel-Tribune

Recently I heard someone say, “I want a real book, not one of those electronic things. Things are changing too much.”

I must admit I, too, prefer the printed word, but this comment caused me to not only think about how much libraries have changed, but also about the book itself.

Some of the earliest examples of writing date to about 3,000 B.C. in Mesopotamia and Egypt. Some of the earliest books were actually cuneiform clay tablets, sheets of papyrus, and scrolls dating back to between 700-500 B.C. Paper made for writing was developed in China in the third century.

The codex— a stack of sheets bound together (or the book we think of today) — had replaced the scroll by about the fifth century. Then, Gutenberg and his perfection of the movable-type printing press ushered in an information revolution in the 1400s brought a massive spread of literature across Europe and helped establish the Renaissance.

Libraries have changed, too, from halls of scrolls in ancient Alexandria to miles of bookstacks at the New York Public Library. Change has even happened locally.

In 1875, a group of civic-minded men started the community’s first lending library, the Bowling Green Library Association. After several years, this effort at a subscription library faltered.

Then, in 1911, a group of civic-minded women, the Shakespeare Round Table, revitalized the effort to provide library services to the community. Their efforts between 1911 and 1928 included hosting performances to raise funds to buy books, running two reading rooms in downtown BG (in the Exchange Bank Building, located on the northwest corner of Main and Wooster streets, and in the McKenzie-Kabig building, above Pisanello’s Pizza), and advocating for public funds for a true public library.

In 1929, their efforts paid off with the establishment of the Bowling Green School District Public Library located in the new high school (where Wooster Green is now located). The opening day collection of 10,000 volumes was donated by the Shakespeare Round Table.

In 1956, the library moved to the current City Administration Building. In 1974, the library moved to its current location on Main Street, which was completely renovated and expanded in 2003.

Since the early 1990s, the internet, then smartphones, Wi-Fi and other technological advances have changed how people access text and information.

But one thing has not changed — not since ancient Egypt: the need for texts, information, and our collected stories to be organized, housed and then made widely-accessible to those in the community.

We still have to learn to read, learn to learn, learn to discover answers to our questions and also new questions to ask. The need for libraries remains as vital today as it was so long ago.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Happy reading.

Penrod is director of the Wood County District Public Library.