The library was part of an industrial village established by a philanthropic entrepreneur who made his money by importing Alpacas' cashmere-like fleece and weaving fine clothes. Alpacas are members of the camelid family found in the Andes of Peru and Chile. He provided not only houses, a hospital, but schools and a technical college, and the library. I took it for granted that libraries which provided access to books, most of which could be borrowed and taken home, were available everywhere.
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This is still not the case, but in the near future the Internet may provide an equivalent opportunity for people everywhere. Whereas libraries have been established in most major societies, it is only in the recent past that they have been made generally available to ordinary citizens. One of the earliest libraries for which records remain is the Great Library of Alexandria in Egypt which was founded around BC by pharaoh Ptolemy I. It grew to hold several hundred thousand scrolls, some of which are said to have been taken from boats that happened to dock at Alexandria while carrying out their trade.
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The library contributed to the establishment of Alexandria as a major seat of learning. Sadly the library was destroyed by fire. Never the less it represented a particular landmark in the development of the concept of a library as a collection of books to provide a reservoir of knowledge, that should be staffed by specific keepers whose tasks included expansion of the collection. Other similar libraries were established during this period, including those at Ephesus in Turkey and Sankore in Timbuktu.
During the period of the Roman Empire wealthy and influential people continued the practice of establishing libraries, most of which were open only to scholars with the appropriate qualifications. A survey in AD identified 29 libraries in Rome, but as the Empire declined the habit of establishing and maintaining libraries was lost. The development of monasteries provided a renewed stimulus for learning. They amassed book collections and introduced the habit of exchanging volumes. Recognizing the importance of learning the Benedictine rules required that monks spent specified periods of time reading.
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As Europe emerged from the Dark Ages wealthy families again began to collect books and then donate their libraries to seats of learning in places such as Florence, Paris, Vatican City and Oxford. All of these libraries depended upon the copying of text by hand and it was only the development of printing by Gutenberg in the s that production of books was transformed they were much more readily available. During the period to there was an extraordinary expansion of libraries, by universities and nations.
Some of these were named after major benefactors, such as the Bodlean Library in Oxford and the library donated by the Massachusetts clergyman John Harvard, after whom the university is named. In the United States the Library of Congress was founded in and after a fire during the War of Independence its stock was replenished by the purchase of the collection that had been amassed by Thomas Jefferson.
The Library of Congress now claims to be the largest library in the world with more than million items. It was also during this period that public libraries became more common and books became more generally available for the first time. In some cases subscriptions were used to purchase books, but there was no charge for subsequent loans.
One such was the Library Company of Philadelphia established by a group that included Benjamin Franklin in The oldest surviving free reference library in the United Kingdom, Chetham's, was established in Manchester in It was at this time that the UK parliament passed an Act to promote the formation of Public Libraries. In the United States the first free public library was only formed in , in New Hampshire. The Scots born entrepreneur Andrew Carniegie went on to build more than 1, public libraries in the US between and These libraries were the first to make large numbers of books available to the general public.
Of course books are only valuable to those who have access to them, can read and are encouraged to do so.
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Often reading was associated with religion as knowledge of the sacred scripture was important. In England around the ability to read a particular Psalm entitled a defendant to be tried in an ecclesiastical court, which was typically more lenient than a civil court.
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In some places funds were allocated specifically to teach people to read the scriptures, but this provision was not always available universally. At the time of the civil war in the US owners were prohibited from teaching their slaves to read and write. As recently as the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire was arrested and expelled for daring to teach peasants to read.
Universal access to the Internet could have an exceptionally important contribution to make to future political developments. Access to the Internet would then provide the opportunity to everyone anywhere in the world to obtain a great deal of information on any subject that they choose. Knowledge accumulated over centuries of human experience is an important counter to fashions of the moment communicated through commercial mass media.
It is hard to imagine that making each of us aware of the circumstances and beliefs of people in other parts of the world can do anything but good. We would surely be more likely to assist countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq to form liberal democracies by helping to provide education, training, employment and so wealth and greater understanding than by military take over, which inevitably causes a very large numbers of civilian casualties and a great deal of damage. There is one cautionary note. Texts of any kind, be they on parchment or available through electronic systems, are only as useful as they are accurate.
In the days when books were prepared by hand the accuracy of scribes was recognized as being of paramount importance. In a rather different way, but of equal importance, we depend upon the rigor of the research done by those whose electronically reproduced articles we read. Who has not Googled thyself? Most humans have a concept of self that is constructed in terms of how we think we are perceived by those around us and the Internet has made that preoccupation trivially easy. Now anyone can assess their impact factor through a multitude of platforms including Facebook, Twitter and of course, blogging.
Last year, on the request of my publisher, I started a blog to comment on weird and bizarre examples of supernatural thinking from around the world. From the outset I thought that blogging was a self-indulgent activity but I agreed to give it a whirl to help promote my book. In spite of my initial reluctance I very soon became addicted to feedback. It was not enough to post blogs for some unseen audience.
I needed the validation from visitors that my efforts and opinions were appreciated. Within weeks, I had become a numbers junkie looking for more and more hits. However, the Internet has also made me sentient of my own insignificance and power at the same time. Within the blogosphere, I am no longer an expert on any opinion as it is one that can be shared or rejected by multitude of others.
But insignificant individuals can make a significant difference when they coalesce around a cause. As this goes to press, a British company is under public scrutiny for allegedly selling bogus bomb-detecting dowsing rods to the Iraqi security forces. This has come about because of a blog campaign by like-minded skeptics who have used the Internet to draw attention to what they consider to be questionable business activity.
This would have been very difficult and daunting in the pre-Internet days and not something that the ordinary man in street would have taken on. In this way, the Internet can empower the individual through collective campaigns. I can make a difference because of the Internet. I'll be checking back on Google to see if anyone shares my opinion. Other people can help us compensate for our mental and emotional deficiencies, much as a wooden leg can compensate for a physical deficiency. Specifically, other people can extend our intelligence and help us understand and regulate our emotions.
I've argued that such relationships can become so close that other people essentially act as extensions of oneself, much like a wooden leg can serve as an extension of oneself. When another person helps us in such ways, he or she is participating in what I've called a "Social Prosthetic System. The Internet is already an enormous repository of the products of many minds, and the interactive aspects of the evolving Internet are bringing it ever closer to the sort of personal interactions that underlie Social Prosthetic Systems.
More generally, the Internet functions as if it is my memory. This function of the Internet is particularly striking when I'm writing; I no longer am comfortable writing if I'm not connected to the Internet.
It's become completely natural to check facts as I write, taking a minute or two to dip into PubMed, Wikipedia, or the like. When I write with a browser open in the background, it feels like the browser is an extension of myself. Regarding perception: Sometimes I feel as if the Internet has granted me clairvoyance: I can see things at a distance.
I'm particularly struck by the ease of using videos, allowing me to feel as though I've witnessed a particular event in the news. Regarding judgment: The Internet has made me smarter, in matters small and large. For example, when writing a textbook it's become second nature to check a dozen definitions of a key term, which helps me to distill the essence of its meaning.
But more than that, I now regularly compare my views with those of many other people. This inevitably hones my own views. Moreover, I use the Internet for "sanity checks," trying to gauge whether my emotional reactions to an event are reasonable, quickly comparing them to those of others. These effects of the Internet have become even more striking since I've used a smart phone.
I now regularly pull out my phone to check a fact, to watch a video, and to read blogs. Such activities fill the spaces that used to be dead time such as waiting for somebody to arrive for a lunch meeting.
But that's the upside. The downside is that when I used to have those dead periods, I often would let my thoughts drift, and sometimes would have an unexpected insight or idea. Those opportunities are now fewer and farther between. Like anything else, constant connectivity has posed various tradeoffs; nothing is without a price.
I am a better thinker now than I was before I integrated the Internet into my mental and emotional processing. By using the Internet I have renewed or begun new epistolary interactions on a global basis with superb, knowledgeable scientists and historians. The Internet has made quickly available much obscure, scientific literature relevant and invaluable to me. It has generated new colleagues. The luxury far beyond the usual "he says, she says, they-say gossip" of the Internet leads us both nearby and geographically distant associates: graduate students, family members, et al.
Note: of course our planet is mostly not earth, it ought to be renamed Planet Water or Planet Hard Rock. The Internet makes a difference as we zero in toward the final detailed solution of our scientific problem: "How did the ancestral nucleated cell evolve some million years ago? Everyone agrees this evolutionary turning point, the appearance of animal-type cells in the fossil record happened in the time period the geologists call the Proterozoic Eon? The short answer is nucleated cells evolved "by promiscuous forbidden sexual fusion among wildly different kinds of bacteria.
They survived and still live together with the ups-and-downs of permanent merger.