Books and Libraries in the Empire

Image of old book bindings in the Merton College library at Oxford, by Tom Murphy VII, from WikipediaIn the Shine and Wild Empire, the country with which the Shine Cycle is chiefly concerned, books have long been treasured, and most people of sufficient means tend to accumulate what we would call unusually large personal libraries. Today’s post is a further description of these cultural phenomena, starting with how they came to be.

Most of the first settlers of the lands that eventually became the Empire, who arrived by stumbling through portals from other universes, were quite literate but had few books. Because of this, and the general understanding from their worlds’ history of the importance of preserving knowledge, what books had come along with them became treasured heirlooms, and a family would likely go to great lengths to acquire any books that became available (depending, however, on what the book was about).

Eventually, as the society developed the necessary industries to produce papyrus, parchment, and then paper and books in quantity, books became less the rare treasure and more a valuable not-quite-commodity. But the society still considered them of great value, and families of means accumulated great libraries. Publishing houses were among the first and most profitable great enterprises, and booksellers are common in most cities.

But books were never considered a form of wealth to be hoarded. While the human nations never felt quite as strongly on this point as the dwarves, many families and even individuals are usually willing to open their libraries to researchers or even the public. There are even a few “public” libraries, some of which are managed on the basis of an endowment, some of which are supported by a local jurisdiction’s population via a tax, and some of which are funded by donations, but most are more along the lines of the great subscription libraries of nineteenth-century Britain, charging a nominal fee per volume.

As the Empire grew, and books became progressively cheaper, many families began to specialize in one domain of knowledge or another (though individuals, as here, tend to choose their books eclectically based on their individual interests and whims), usually related to their family trade. Analysts (for a business, for the Imperial Service, etc.) learn to know who has the most relevant books.

By “the present day,” once computing technologies have been introduced (though that’s a topic for another day), physical books are no longer quite as popular or valued (except for fiction, as most people prefer the whole “book experience” for their pleasure reading), but information is still valued, so many who had made their living with books are transitioning to being, in essence, for-profit reference librarians.

Any questions or comments?

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