Saturday 25 February 2012

What the world knows now ... Libraries

Libraries which have weathered the vagaries of time ... corrections and collections – relative to my previous post Scarlett reminded me of Ashur, the Assyrian king, who established the first systematically organised library in the ancient Middle East, part of which survives at Nineveh, northern Iraq.

While I managed to omit the Asian libraries – the Imperial Library is the earliest known Chinese library, with history dating back to the Qin Dynasty (221 – 207 BC); while the first classification and book notation systems were introduced soon afterwards during the Han Dynasty.

Biblioteca Joanina, Coimbra
University, Portugal
 (Baroque style 1700s) 
At this time the library catalogue was written on scrolls of fine silk and stored in silk bags .... reminds me of the origins of tea bags 2,000 years later!  But on a more serious note – the Rulers had this tendency to eradicate their history ...

In our western world Libraries were coming into their own at much the same time as those in the East ...

In Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable under ‘Library’ I find it reported that Strabo mentions the public libraries in Athens and Rome.  We know that Strabo travelled the Saharan region ...

... weathering the sands of life – there used to be trade routes (as above circa 1400) across the Sahara Desert connecting the oases to the shores of Western Africa, the Mediterranean and the Nile from where the Silk Route extended its trails further east, north and south.

We forget that trade and information exchange started about 9,000 years ago ... moving on over time to gold, ivory, spices, wheat, plants and animals ...  then salt, cloth, beads and metal goods – trade being recorded and conducted through middlemen inhabiting the area, who were aware of passages through the drying desert lands.

And believe it or not – education too – from a library in the sand ...  Chinguetti is a trading centre in northern Mauritania.  Michael Palin’s travels show us the tiny passageways in this town, with little shade from the beating, burning sun  ... the creep of the desert sand all pervading.

Library in the Desert
Yet in a side street nearby, the word ‘Bibliotheque’ is scrawled on the stone lintel ... when Palin enters he finds himself in a tiny room with a librarian! 

This old man presides and protects the bundles of papers wrapped in leather bindings or manila folders –  stacked on the shelves around the room.

As Palin mentions the quality of the work is exquisite and these books, loosened from their bindings over time, have been in the old man’s family for centuries ...

... he treats the texts like old friends, moving his finger from right to left, as the Chinese and Japanese do, across the delicate spidery calligraphy.

This library reminds us of the golden days from the 13th century and on when Chinguetti was one of the great centres of Islamic scholarship.  These “desert librarians” are struggling to save this treasure from wind and sand, as literary remnants from the time when Chinguetti was a flourishing city along the caravan route, a cultural lighthouse for poets and scholars alike.

In our time we worry about the pilfering that goes on – the early scholars and monks dealt with their books by chaining them – the Chained Library came into existence ...

... the Hereford Cathedral Chained Library (see below) has recently been relocated to a new building, where the whole library arrangement can now be seen in its original arrangement (1611 – 1841), but also allows the books to be better protected in a controlled environment.

The chain is fitted to the corner or cover of the book – not to the spine – avoiding the stress of wear and tear when moving on and off the shelf.  The chain is attached to the book (via a ringlet) and each book is housed with its spine facing away from the reader with only the pages’ fore-edges visible (for us that is the ‘wrong’ way round).  This means that each book could be removed and opened without the need to be turned around, hence avoiding the tangle in its chain.

There were books at Hereford Cathedral long before there was a ‘library’ in the modern sense ... with the Cathedral’s earliest and most important book as the eighth century Hereford Gospels – one of 299 medieval manuscripts held within the Chains.

Pope Sixtus IV appoints Bartolomeo Platina: Prefect of the Vatican Library - fresco by Melozzo da Forli, 1477

Brewer’s then mentions various other great libraries of our more modern day:–   (NB: my Brewer’s cost £3.75 in 1974!)

·        the Vatican Library being noted for its antiquity and manuscript wealth (formerly established in 1475, though in fact much older)
·        the Biblioteca Mediceo-Laurenziana, Florence (opened to the public in 1571) has a particularly fine collection of classical manuscripts
·        other great national libraries in Rome, Madrid, Paris, Moscow
·        St Andrew’s University, Scotland (1546)
·        here in Britain – the British Museum (1753)
·        the Bodleian Library, Oxford
·        Cambridge University Library
·        Harvard Library – is the oldest in the USA (1638)
·        New York Library
·        Specialist libraries in California, Washington and New York

Bibliotheque Awra Amba,
Community Library Ethiopia
Natural disasters, human destruction or degradation, and weather systems all continue to play their role in the libraries of our times ...

... yet from the wellspring of humanity we are recreating the record of our world’s history and knowledge with new libraries, preservation of the old, and looking at new openings, as Steven Pressfield has reported here ...

... in an article by Callie Oettinger: The Blockbuster Super Library: Booksellers come and go – as do publishers ... But libraries ... Those have been constant throughout world history.  They never go away.

Oettinger quotes an article from Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly’s: At O’Reilly we’ve tried to focus not on the form of the book but on the job that it does for our customers.  It teaches, it informs, it entertains.  How might electronic publishing help us to advance those aims?

Here they are referring to the technical and educational books via Safari Online – let’s hope that publishers of novels will come up with a Blockbuster Super Library for all the genres.

Perhaps Joanne DeMaio of Whole Latte Life ....  is onto the right idea – have you seen her recent foray into marketing for her novel .. it is here: What’s www Got To Do With It?

StevenPressfield’s Online post: The Blockbuster Super Library – deserves a read and a study.

Enjoy the reading – here endeth my lesson on libraries (for now)!  This was not the route these posts were intending to go ...

MichaelPalin’s Travels – the tv series was accompanied by a book;
World Heritage – photographs by Remi Benali of Chinguetti .... beautiful!

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Monday 20 February 2012

Libraries old and new ...

It is Library Lover’s Month reminding us that books became one of the most efficient and enduring information technologies every invented – libraries paved the way for scholars to travel the known world ...

... the Royal Library of Alexandria was the first, largest and most significant library in Western civilisation functioning as a major centre of scholarship in Greek and Roman times.

Above: Aristotle’s School, a painting from the 1880s by Gustav Adolph Spangenberg
Ptolemy 1 ensured its construction in the 3rd century BC, and those early Rulers kept it in order fostering the development of its museum, while carefully maintaining the distinction of its population’s three largest ethnicities: Greek, Jewish and Egyptian.

Julius Caesar in 48 BC ‘accidentally’ burned down the library in his Siege of Alexandria – before he turned his conquering eyes towards northern Europe.

Strabo, a Greek historian, geographer and philosopher, recorded that scholars were then able to use an off-shoot of the Great Library in the western Greek quarter of Alexandria.   Strabo personifies travel and learning two thousand years ago ...

This Latin inscription regarding
Tiberius Claudius Balbius of Rome
(died c AD79) mentions the
BYBLIOTHECE” (line eight).
His life was characterized by extensive travels – he was born in northern Turkey – journeyed to Egypt, down the Nile as far as present day Ethiopia, eastwards into Asia Minor, exploring the Mediterranean coasts, and as far south as Mauritania, in northern Africa.

Sadly his first major work has been lost – “Historical Sketches” – but his 17 volume “Geographica” presented a descriptive history of people and places from different regions of the world known to his era ... copies of which remain to this day, can be studied and have been used extensively in the intervening years.

In 365 AD Crete experienced a huge earthquake causing a massive tsunami – the effects of which we now have a greater understanding – then swept across the southern and eastern Mediterranean causing widespread devastation particularly to Libya, Alexandria and the Nile Delta.  The great Library has been underwater ever since ...

Inside Bibliotheca Alexandrina
... however a phoenix has arisen ... the Bibliotheca Alexandrina ... a commemoration of the Great Library and an attempt to rekindle something of the brilliance that this earlier centre of study and erudition represented.  The old library was tri-lingual, so will the new Bibliotheca be – containing works in Arabic, French and English.

This new library at Alexandria has shelf space for eight million books as well as all the mod cons – a conference centre, specialised libraries for maps, multimedia, the blind and visually impaired, young people and for children; there are four museums, four art galleries for temporary exhibitions, fifteen permanent exhibitions, a planetarium and a manuscript restoration laboratory.

A room full of scrolls
The first known library of its kind entrusted to gather a serious collection of books from beyond its country’s borders, the Great Library at Alexandria over two thousand years ago was charged with collecting all the world’s knowledge.

This was done with a royal mandate involving trips to the book fairs of Rhodes and Athens, and included a policy to take the scrolls and books off every ship that came into port.  The original texts were kept, copies were made and sent back to their owners.

Alexandria, on the island of Pharos within the Nile Delta, soon found itself the international hub for trades, as well as the leading producer of papyrus and, soon enough, books.

Poseidon at the
Bibliotheca Alexandrina
The Library was built in the style of Aristotle’s Lyceum, adjacent to and in service of the Musaeum (a Greek Temple or “House of Muses”, hence the term “museum”).

The layout is not known, but comprised a Peripatos walk – after Aristotle’s method of teaching philosophy as he strolled around – gardens, dining area, reading room, lecture halls and meeting rooms – the influence of that early model can be seen in the layout of university campuses.

The Great Library had an acquisitions department probably nearer the harbour, a cataloguing department; there was a hall containing shelves for the collections of papyrus scrolls, known as bibliotheki.  Legend has it that carved into the walls above the shelves was an inscription that read: The place of the cure of the soul.

The collections of books has always changed with the times including clay tablets, papyrus scrolls, parchment quartos, books, pamphlets, newspapers, journals, magazines, comics et al ...

Book Scanner at the Internet Archives
... today that continues with the ‘Internet Archive’ – whose stated mission of “universal access to all knowledge” really is not any different to that conferred up the Great Library over 2,000 years ago.

The Bibliotheca Alexandrina contains this mirror collection of the original Californian ‘Internet Archive’ including collections of digitized materials: websites, music, moving images and nearly three million public domain books.

There is a new library being built in Birmingham, England ... which has as its slogan “Rewriting the Book”  ...  and they are selecting 26 ‘local’ people who have been influenced in their use and continuing use of the library to improve and enhance their knowledge.

An artist's impression of the new library
Eighteen people have been chosen so far ... the ‘Faces’ including a salsa-dancing linguist, a new media entrepreneur, a veteran of community work ...

... you can visit the Birmingham Library website and see the diverse range of peoples and ideas, including YouTube clips,  – who offer hope through their endeavours and ...

... perhaps reflect that the British Empire might have waned – but in the meantime we have garnered a magnificent diaspora of life who have made and are making effective use of libraries, and who now are giving their input on the design for the new library due to open in 2013.

From a cultural centre attached to the Bibliotheca
Alexandrina - CULTNAT
"He Who Loses His Past is Lost"
You will find Ellise Miles there – an avid reader – who will only be 13 when the Library opens its doors in 2013 ... what a great place to find herself in – influencing our resources for future generations.

It is difficult to imagine how some of the great turning points in western history could have been achieved without the book: the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Scientific Revolution and the Age of Enlightenment all relied on the printed word for their spread and permanent influence.

For two and a half millennia, humanity used the book, in its manuscript or printed form, to record, to administer, to worship and to educate.

Bronze sculpture, Bill Woodrow’s
Sitting on History’ at the
British Library. 
Sitting on History, with its ball and
chain, refers to the book as the
captor of information
which we cannot escape.
Yes, there are many other libraries or centres of learning, which we need to encourage others to benefit from the care and information on hand within these centres – a great example is Iain McColl – one of ‘the Faces’, who was homeless and living in a hostel ... he now has a home of his own and is continuing his studies in the construction industry – see his story here.

So in this month for Library Lovers as we celebrate our future perhaps we should remember in our hearts as we write our books, or sit with them those words from long ago:

Within books we will find the place to cure our soul.

Julie Flanders librarian – What Else is Possible 

A cultural centre associated  (CULTNAT)with the Bibliotheca Alexandrina;
El-Sennary House Festival article: - Ahram Online Folk 

The Library at Birmingham - with short biographies on  'the Faces' - Helping to Rewrite the Book

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories 

Tuesday 14 February 2012

Valentine's Day, Chocolate and Love Poems ...

Valentine’s Day has become a chocolate, flower and love day ... not quite what the early peoples named Valentine might have expected.  Saint Valentines (and there were a few) were all Christian martyrs – no romantic elements to appease until the 14th century.

(Kakaw (‘cacao’) written in Mayan script.  The word was also 
written in several other ways in old Mayan texts. - see right)

Chaucer wrote of romantic love in his “Parlement of Foules” (1382) and I gave an appreciation in my post two years ago, love never got a look in last year!

Cacao seed in the fruit or Pocha
Love poems have scattered themselves through our literature since those times ... while poetry forms a major part of our lives, some of us totally appreciate its beauty, fewer of us understand its form ...   

JD Meier, at Sources of Insight, recently had a post “How to Read Poetry to Expand your Heart” – which is excellent ... so often I start reading a poem and that is it ... it fades – here Carolyn  Elliot (JD’s guest) gives a simple suggestion – now I know I will look at a poem in a different light .... and consider its ‘Aether’: please pop over and read.

Cacao fruits on the tree
Then last weekend’s Saturday Times had a Supplement including the 30 most romantic Love Poems ... these can be downloaded to the iPhone and iPad – Helena Bonham-Carter reads Carol Ann Duffy’s Valentine, Tom Hiddleston recites Bright Star by John Keats, while Harry Enfield reads A Subaltern’s Love Long by John Betjeman.

Poetry, whether or not you have a beloved in your sights, has the power to shift the soul and these 30 poems can do just that –

Sonnet 130 by William Shakespeare;
    My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun; ...

The Passionate Shepherd by Christopher Marlowe
    Come live with me and be my love, ...

One Perfect Rose by Dorothy Parker
     A single flow’r he sent me, since we met, ...

Kouame Alphonse Fasseri -
c/o Nestle + the Eden Project
The Eden Project has had some posts on chocolate and this post from the Ivory Coast should inspire and inform:

Where does chocolate come from?  As part of our festival of chocolate, cocoa grower Kouame Alphonse Fasseri from Africa’s Ivory Coast, tells the Eden Project his story ... and how chocolate has made a difference to his and his family’s daily life – read here. 

We know that the Mexicans and Mayans revered and added chocolate to their recipes – here is an interesting one ... still applicable for our end of winter, and ready for the southern hemisphere’s autumn and winter ...

the Eden Project's: Savoury Chocolate recipe: Borlotti Bean Mole with Roasted Winter Vegetables ... 

A Mayan chief forbids a person
to touch a jar of chocolate
The Spanish King Philip IV’s official Chronicler of the Indies, described Montezuma (c1466 – June 1520) customarily taking a chocolate beverage after meals, as part of a sumptuous daily ritual:

He had Cups of Gold, and Salvers of the same; and sometimes he drank out of Cocoas (coconut shells), and natural Shells, very richly set with Jewels ... when he had done eating, he usually took a kind of Chocolate, made up after the Manner of the Country, that is, the Substance of the Nut beat up with the Mill till the Cup was filled more with Froth than with Liquor, after which he used to smoak Tobacco perfume’d with liquid Amber.

Cacao beans were used as money for exchange and as a tax ... the Victorians pronounced Cacao as Cocoa – and that is how it has remained ... fact or fiction – who knows. 

Chocolate 'melanger' - 
mixing raw ingredients
The Europeans took out the chilli pepper the Mesoamericans were fond of, retained the vanilla, added cinnamon and cane sugar to counteract its natural bitterness.

Chocolate in Europe was a drink and remained so for three hundred years, but with the advent of the Industrial Revolution (1750s and on) many changes occurred that brought about the food we would recognise today.

Chocolatiers – artisan chocolate houses – have sprung up in recent times ... to bring back the nutritious, but extremely rich dark chocolate into our consumer focus.

Phil Neal, Chocolatier, in Turnham Green, Chiswick has a shop named after the botanical name for Cocoa:  TheobromaCacao – meaning ‘Food of the Gods’ – here is one of his Valentine’s Day hearts ...

The Chocolate Drinker -
by Raimundo Madrazo
This painting  The Chocolate Drinker – by Raimundo Madrazo – to me sums up Valentine’s Day ... a delicious drink, a voluptuous dress (fashion forsaken), her lover’s tryst lying in abandonment on the floor, while she conjures up her beating heart’s desire awaiting his arrival ... le chocolat fortifying her until her amour returns with a newly composed love poem ....

Just listening to the Love Poems would do us all good – and if you have an iphone or an ipad ... the App can be downloaded ... you can record your own and send it to your loved one, or read them out loud ...

Poetry might get into our souls on this St Valentine’s Day ...  have fun!

Love Poems App ... iF poems App - Record a Poem ... 

Poetry with the iphone and ipad App ... Young Poets ... previously mentioned in October last year ... If, Thanksgiving and Nano post ... 

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Friday 10 February 2012

Space Exploration – An International Effort

Welcome Stephen Tremp with an awesome summary of what's at stake as we explore further into space ... enjoy:
Dr Carl Sagan (1934 - 1996)

"The surface of the Earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean.
From it we have learned most of what we know.
Recently, we have waded a little out to sea, enough to dampen 
our toes or, at most, wet our ankles.
The water seems inviting. The ocean calls.”

— Dr. Carl Sagan

Space. The final frontier. We remember this line from Star Trek, set in the 23rd century under the “United Federation of Planets.” The key word here is united. We have to ask, will space offer the possibility of mankind living together peaceably? Or is bloodshed inevitable as we explore and colonize our solar system as we did here on Earth? Currently, there are at least fourteen agencies with a stake in space exploration and possible exploitation.

The Players
NASA: The 
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States responsible for the nation's civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research. Mission Statement: pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research.

International Space Station

The European Space Agency is Europe’s gateway to space. Its mission: shape the development of Europe’s space capability and deliver benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world.

Russia and China (the only other two countries besides the U.S. to independently send men into space), Japan, Iran, Israel, India, Mexico. Korea, Indoneisia, Pakistan, and Vietnam all have space agencies with a range of capabilities from astronaut training, to satellite operations, to sounding rockets (designed to take measurements and perform scientific research during sub-orbital flight), and recoverable biological sounding rockets.

Then there is the military, private sector, and educational institutions that have a growing stake in space exploration. With the Space Shuttle Program mothballed, many are calling for a government and private sector partnership in space exploration. The GOP candidates have also jumped on this topic.

Moon Colonization

It’s Already Begun: The International Space Station (ISS) is an artificial low-earth orbiting satellite and the ninth space station to be inhabited. The ISS has hosted a rotating international crew since November 2000. Crew members from around the world use the ISS as a research laboratory and conduct experiments in biology, physics, astronomy and other fields. It’s also used to test spacecraft systems and equipment for future use to missions to the Moon and Mars. Ready or not, here we go!

What’s Next: Human and robotic explorations of the moon, Mars, and near earth asteroids. Mining asteroids, planetoids, and spent comets could provide raw minerals such as iron, nickel, and titanium to help construct space stations right there in space. Pretty cool, huhn? Resources like water and oxygen could help sustain life. And water and hydrogen could be extracted for rocket fuel. Perhaps, platinum and cobalt could be returned for earth for profit. Both governments and private industry will be involved in this potentially lucrative business.

Mars Colonization
There’s No Need To Fear: Just as there is environmental protection for both earth's polar regions, so too will protecting the moon's and Mar's environment for scientific research. There is no legal ownership of the moon, although the U.S. has planted flags there. There is an Outer Space Treaty (1967) that defines the Moon and all outer space as the "province of all mankind. The moon cannot be used for military purposes and bans weapons of mass destruction.

Question: Should we set up residence in space or on planets and moons? Will space exploration provide social, intellectual, and economic benefits to everyone, or is this another black hole for our hard-earned tax dollars.

Thanks Hilary for hosting me on my Grand OPENING Blog Tour. And thanks everyone for stopping by and saying hello! Please visit me 
AT MY BLOG for more information on my novels BREAKTHROUGH and the recently released OPENING!

Breakthrough and Opening can be downloaded at:

Kindle for $1.99

Smashwords for $1.99

Image Credits: 

Congratulations Stephen on completing the second book of your trilogy - a wonderful achievement; I highly recommend your first book Breakthrough and cannot wait to find out how the good, bad and  the ugly develop in this sequel ... 

Space is an interesting 'arena' - and as each year passes we seem to learn more - it is fascinating and I'm delighted to have some subject matter on my blog - space does inspire people.

Stephen writes about science, space exploration - his interests, while interspersing with articles about publishing, self-publishing and useful tips and tricks he has found - there's a great deal of interaction and knowledge exchange over at his blog:  Stephen Tremp - Author ... so please visit and join him along his trilogy journey.

Stephen's Grand Opening Tour continues: upcoming dates -

February 14 Rachna Chhabria Rachna’s Scriptorium

February 15 Melissa Bradley 
Melissa’s Imaginarium

February 17 Lydia Kang 
The Word is my Oyster

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories