The Library of Alexandria, Egypt was by most accounts the greatest library of the ancient world. The trouble is it no longer issues library cards … the library is any more. Same goes for the ancient library of Constantinople.
A Monastery in Sinai, Egypt houses a library from the 6th century. But only monks and scholars get to go inside. The Vatican Library has an extraordinary collection as does Catherine the Great’s library in St. Petersburg. But we’re looking for an older library and one that’s open to the public.
1368 is good year to start your search. This was the age of knights and crusaders, and the Ming Dynasty. And it’s when one King Charles V – established a royal library. It packs in over 14-million books. Can you name it?
It’s one of the world’s greatest, and is surely one of the oldest public libraries. We want to hear about great libraries you’ve had a chance to visit around the world. Add your story in the comments below.
Now we want to tell you about one of the world’s newest libraries in Bhutan. Bhutan is a tiny kingdom sandwiched between two giants — India and China. It’s also perched high in the Himalayas — isolated for much of its history.
By Lisa Napoli
The village of Ura looks like it came out of a fairy tale a cluster of farmhouses in the midst of a valley of green. Most everyone here in this tiny community works the land. The children here represent the new, modern Bhutan: They’re learning to read, and in English.
So when a non-profit group announced it wanted to help the village start a library, the reaction was lukewarm. The library is only the second free lending library in the entire country. The other one is ten hours away in the capital Thimphu.
Kesang Choden came from there to help the villagers get the library up and running. She’s with the Bhutan office of the nonprofit group, READ Global. Choden says books aren’t the only thing in short supply in Ura.
“There’s just two stores, and those are grocery stores. You just get necessities. Like salt and oil. It’s very difficult for them to even get a pencil. Very difficult.”
Choden says some parents were worried by the idea that their kids would borrow books to take home. They were afraid the children might destroy them, and they’d have to pay. The sad part is that the parents here maybe because they’re illiterate don’t see the importance of a book. They don’t encourage their children to read. That’s the sad thing, right?
The closest high school is two hours away, and many kids, especially girls, drop out after tenth grade. Two local young women have been hired by READ Bhutan as librarians. They’re getting a crash course in the Dewey Decimal system as they stack a new shipment of books on the shelves.
On this Saturday, after the usual half day at school, fifty kids are crammed in here, reading, helping each other, and clambering to get onto one of six computers. Even though they can’t get on the Internet yet, they’re excited to be able to play with technology they don’t have at home.
Karma Jurmin, a father of two, says just having the computers is good for the entire community.
“We want to educate them with computers, new techniques, so you don’t get kicked out from urban places, saying, this guy is a rural man, he’s a farmer,” he says.
Jurmin says even though many of the parents initially expressed misgivings, they’re starting to embrace the new library. One seventy year old Ura resident stopped in, hoping to learn how to type in Bhutan’s national language, Dzongkha.
And other elders have been trickling in. Mostly, though, it’s kids who pack this place every day.
When we read more, we learn more, no? The children of Ura are so excited about the library that the staff is putting in extra hours. Kesang Choden doesn’t seem to mind:
“The kids are here till six, and we say we have to go, and they say, please ma’am, and you can’t say no?” Choden said. “So you’re here till six-thirty. Isn’t that amazing?”
READ Global hopes to open several libraries in other villages across the country by the end of the year.