In the pre-digital era, all data was the work of human hands. Not all this information was in numbers or coded. The earliest examples we know are Neanderthal scratchings on walls of caves. Paintings, coins, and other tokens followed. The Egyptians used hieroglyphic script 5,000 years ago to record history.
So, Are Egyptian Tombs the First Libraries?
In human culture, libraries are places where we keep books on shelves. We can remove them and put them on reading tables, or take them home. Perhaps it is best to duck the issue and call the walls of Egyptian tombs ‘data’. In any event, when someone discovered the art of writing on paper, having portable records proved to be the winner.
The Earliest Libraries in the World
Early books were exceedingly rare because everything was in original handwriting. They became a store of value that wealthy people collected like postage stamps and corporate stocks. Later, mighty empires used them as archives for their achievements.
The earliest of these records were on clay tablets. Papyrus and paper came later. Most ancient libraries became victims of war and natural disaster and were lost. The 30,000 clay tablets from the 2,800-year-old Royal Library of Ashurbanipal in Assyria are a notable exception.
The Ancient Libraries of England
Most historically significant libraries in England are found in its great universities. The one in Cambridge just celebrated 600 years of service, while the Bodleian at Oxford dates back to 1602. However, the jewel in the crown must surely be the British Library in London. It is the second largest in the world with 150 million items.
Could This Information Possibly Be Lost?
History assures us we have lost our libraries, time and time again. Much of the information is now digitalised, although we are learning that we can lose this too. There are ancient languages that we can no longer read. Will people a thousand years from now be able to interpret our data? Systems are in place to avoid digital obsolescence and to make sure that they do.