We have spent the last month exploring what The Library means to us, both literally and metaphorically. Behind it all is a powerful legacy and tradition that The Library invests in liberal and progressive religion. Progressives of many traditions cherish the great lost library system of ancient Alexandria which created an impressive collection of knowledge written in or translated into Greek. The collection was divided into faculties with a president and priest at the head of each faculty. Extensions of the Alexandrian library were established in temples. The great Greek poet Callimachus was tasked with creating a bibliography of all the library’s works, which he did. His bibliography existed and was cited well into the Byzantine period. The Alexandrian Library required the work of government and religion to compile, organize and protect the collection like none the world had seen. It would be civil wars and the growing hatred between religions that would ultimately destroy the Library of Alexandria and its extensions, including most of the works it held.
No story quite captures this loss and the grief that many feel like the story of Hypatia. Hypatia was a woman and a philosopher known to be a popular and well loved teacher at the Library of Alexandria. As the story goes, one day while leaving the Library, she was attacked by a mob of angry Christians who distrusted not only the learning that the Library represented but that a woman should be in such a position of authority. She was stoned to death in the street. This was one of many incidents that contributed to the loss of the Library through civil and inter-religious wars.
There may be no temple more sacred to the future of humanity than what we call The Library today. Even now, individual religious movements of various religions traditions would, if allowed, burn and ban certain books from “their” library. This constant threat of turning The Library into Our Library where They are not allowed represents the seed of self-destruction that we must continue to heal in ourselves. “The library is the temple of learning, and learning has liberated more people than all the wars of history” (Carl T. Rowan).
There in a unifying potential in a library that includes all kinds of learning and all knowledge from all ages of time. When that library admits all peoples through its doors, it becomes a universal temple in which we recognize what feeds and leads the human soul.
“Information helps you to see that you are not alone. That there’s somebody in Mississippi and somebody in Tokyo all who have wept, who’ve longed and lost, who’ve all been happy. So, the library helps you to see, not only that you’re not alone, but that you’re not really any different from everyone else.” Maya Angelou