Did you know that not all libraries are free? Benjamin Franklin proposed and helped start the first fee-less library in the United States. But when we lived in Austin, we couldn't check books out of the library without paying a $50/year fee. That was because, though our address was in Austin, we didn't live in the city proper. They wouldn't annex us. We didn't live in Austin, but we didn't live in any other city either. So we had no taxes paying for libraries. (I don't know what they were going to but they weren't going to libraries.) Therefore, in order to check books out, we had to pay $50/year.
To some of you that may not seem like a lot of money. But we didn't have much back then AND I have a highly emotional attachment to libraries. The first major trauma of my life happened at a library. My good memories growing up involved libraries, because my family was very poor, below the poverty line, and my dad would take us to the library and let us take books out. When we had read them all, he would take a break from work and take us back to the library again. Thus my brother and I learned to love reading because my dad would come home from work to take us to the library.
I am writing a novel that takes place around 250 BC. Ancient libraries were built up by scribes making one copy of a work which they were paid to copy for the customer and one copy for themselves. As far as we can tell, there was no book trade in the Near East.
Ashurbanipal founded the first systematically collected library in the Near East. Ashurbanipal was Assyria's last important ruler. He ruled for oveer half a century. He was literate. His royal seat was at Nineveh (of Jonah fame to you OT fans) in the 600s BC. His library had over 1500 individual works, with as many as six copies of each. Remember that this was at a time when writing was on tablets. No paper, no scrolls, no vellum. Hard clay tablets or wooden boards (none of those have survived anywhere).
He systematically collected his library by robbing temples and private collections. He was a dicatator. He could do that kind of thing.
A fascinating book called Libraries in the Ancient World tells of curses written onto tablets belonging to lending libraries of the BC period. Only one person was supposed to have it at a time.”He who entrusts this book to others' hands, may all the gods found in Babylon curse him!” And they wanted the tablets taken care of. “He who fears Anu and Antu will take care of the tablet and respect it.” The ancient equivalent of tearing out pages was rubbing out the text. “Who rubs out the text, Marduk will look upon him with anger.”
The harshest curse I read was “He who breaks this tablet or puts in water or rubs it until you cannot recognize it and cannot make it understood, may… the gods of heaven and earth and the gods of Assyria, may all these curse him with a curse which cannot be relieved, terrible and merciless, as long as he lives, may they let his name, his seed, be carried off from the land, may they put his flesh in a dogs' mouth!”
And I thought making me pay for a lost book, along with a $15 restocking fee, was bad!