Libraries Take Center Stage This Month

By Rooney, Jackie | The Florida Times Union, February 21, 2004 | Go to article overview

Libraries Take Center Stage This Month


Rooney, Jackie, The Florida Times Union


Byline: Jackie Rooney, Shorelines columnist

February is the shortest month, the gloomiest month and, one could say, the dullest month. Not so! February has lots of exciting days -- Valentine's Day, Mardi Gras and, in Florida, it's "Library Appreciation Month."

Libraries? Exciting? You bet! Not only are libraries repositories for books and other information, they've evolved into community centers with activities and programs for all ages. Gov. Jeb Bush proclaimed February as "Library Appreciation Month" in Florida. On Feb. 3, the St. Johns County commissioners followed suit, and library system Director Mary Jane Little publicly recognized support provided by the county's five Friends of the Library organizations.

"This unusually high number of FOL groups reflects the sense of ownership and value placed on the library system by the citizens of St. Johns County," Little said.

Considering today's emphasis on mass media, computerized databases and electronic access to, well, everything, some people view libraries as a thing of the past. In one sense, they aren't far wrong.

Books and, therefore, libraries evolved from the oral tradition, a process whereby a dentist repeatedly performs painful and costly procedures in your mouth until he has paid for his new Mercedes -- no, wait, wrong oral tradition. The oral tradition was early man's way of memorizing ideas and stories to pass knowledge from one generation to the next. As time went on and there was more and more to remember, this method proved unreliable. For example, early man was frequently distracted by the latest in flint tools at Cave "We're more than a store" Depot, and consequently couldn't recall what early woman told him to pick up for dinner at the hunt. Thus the cuneiform "honey-do list" was developed. It, too, had problems. Being chipped on clay tablets in a hard-to-decipher script, it was difficult to read and carry -- pockets hadn't been invented yet -- and early man kept losing it, at least that's what he grunted.

There is evidence libraries existed as long ago as the third millennium B.C., when Sumerians of Mesopotamia recorded daily activities, political and social issues and philosophy on clay tablets they stored in temples. A few centuries later in the ancient city of Nineveh -- at the Tigris River, just north of Babylon -- King Ashurbanipal was looking for a good clay tablet to read after a hard day of quashing an Egyptian revolt and conquering Persia. He developed an obsession with literature and sent scribes throughout the empire to collect and copy clay books of astrology, history, literature, law, science and religion. He studied, collated and filed them away in vaulted rooms in his palace. His royal library contained 100,000 clay books, making it the world's first organized library.

Friends of the Library-Ponte Vedra Beach board member Guy DiCarlo and a team of volunteers have also been collecting and collating lots of books -- about 30,000 this year, but way more than 100,000 in the nine years DiCarlo's been in charge of the organization's annual book sale. Quantity, quality and low prices are why the sale has a large following of passionate book lovers. The sale opens with a wine and cheese reception from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, March 2, at Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Church cultural center. You must be a Friends member to attend and have first pick of the books, but you can join at the door. Book sale proceeds benefit the library.

Bibliophiles look forward to the silent auction of collectibles, including specialty art and Oriental rug books and autographed books by Henry Kissinger, Dr. Ruth Westheimer and other popular authors. Also for auction is a wall box depicting a miniature fabric and sewing store donated by Ruth Ferguson of Jacksonville Beach. The sale opens to the public at 10 a.m. Wednesday, March 3, runs through Saturday, March 6, and closes each day at 7 p. …

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