I don’t think anything brings pain to a librarian’s heart as much as losing a library. Collectively, we still raise our glasses in tearful memorial to the ancient world’s Library of Alexandria, but that is hardly the only “lost library” in history.
Wikipedia has a whole page dedicated to the topic of destroyed libraries (yes, librarians use Wikipedia, we think it is a great resource!…just not the only resource) from the ancient world to modern times and it is truly depressing.
The U.S. has a few, and while ours often do not involved the destruction of the books inside as well as the building itself (*clutches bosom*), they are still heartbreaking. I stumbled across this older article from about two years ago that talks about one of the great library tragedies of the modern world, the demolition of the Public Library of Cincinnati. The article, at some site called Messy Nessy Chic, give a great overview of the library and its end, with lots of heartbreaking photographs. It’s worth a read, if you don’t mind crying.
Then there is the Villa of the Papyri in Herculaneum (buried in 79 a.d., rediscovered in about 1750 a.d.), which, despite the damage done by the pyroclastic flow that entombed the library, is still the only surviving library of classical antiquity. Yet, still: buried under 25 meters of volcanic ash which charred the precious scrolls. Science has been poking at those scrolls for over 200 years. Literally poking, and scraping, and slicing – acts of destruction in the name of discovery that can never be reversed.
Since about 1999, though, non-invasive techniques have been developed, resulting in the real possibility of virtually “unrolling” the scrolls for reading. They will forever be piece-meal documents, but still, so much ancient writings are just waiting to be reclaimed! The New Yorker has a great article from last year about the history of the scrolls from the Villa, “The Invisible Library.”
I remember watching the end to National Treasure (back when it was released, in 2004) and in that famous scene where the hero lights up the secret “national treasury” of artifacts, I bounced in my seat and squealed when I saw a stack of scrolls off to the side. My then-husband leaned over and whispered, “it’s all about the books for you, isn’t it?”
It totally is.