All the Books in the World

Early “books” were made from clay tablets.
Early “books” were made from clay tablets.

When you think of libraries, what comes to mind? A space with computers? Rooms lined with books? A quiet place to read and get help with homework? A large building downtown, or a special place in your school? Libraries are all of these and more.

The History of Libraries

Libraries come in all shapes and sizes. They serve a variety of needs. Their computers allow people to do research. Their books and videos inform and entertain. You can even take their materials home! Their magazines and newspapers describe current events. Librarians are there to guide and support readers.

Even before books were made of paper, there were libraries. In the Middle East, there was a collection of 30,000 clay tablets in 3500 B.C. In Egypt, in 300 B.C., the Great Library of Alexandria had 500,000 scrolls. At the time, this included one of almost every “book” in the world.

Forms of Writing

Over the centuries, there have been many materials used for writing. People wrote on stone tablets and scrolls of parchment or papyrus. They made marks on clay tablets with a reed. They carved hieroglyphics into stone walls, or used ink to paint them on wood. Wax-coated wooden tablets, and even sheets of gold with writing have been found.

All these materials had problems. They were rare and expensive, or heavy and difficult to work with. They took up a lot of space. They could only be used to make one book at a time. For more than 4000 years of writing, there was no paper.

Then, two inventions changed everything. First, more than 2,000 years ago, the Chinese saw that plant fibers could be used to form a sheet to write on. They beat the plant into pulp, mixed it with water, and spread it on a screen to dry. This newly-invented paper was cheaper than all the other book materials. It helped expand the number of books, but they were still made by hand.

The second important invention came in the 1450s when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press. He used metal type to create the first mass-produced book in Europe. The Gutenberg Bible began the age of the printed book. Books became easier to make and store, and libraries began to gather them up.

More than 500 years later, we still read books made from paper and printed on a printing press. But we read on other formats as well. More than 20 years ago, e-books were introduced. E-books are read on screens. They can even be delivered from a virtual library to your own device.

Libraries have changed over the years. So, have books. But both continue to help people expand their minds.

Source: All the Books in the World
By Exploros, CC BY-SA 4.0; Illustration by Unknown, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

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