Why Do We Have Libraries?

Why Do We Have Libraries?
Abigail Fillmore: First Ladies' Lives

Skill: Elementary School
Time Required: One class period


Abigail Fillmore was very interested in books and libraries, as is First Lady Laura Bush.  Mrs. Fillmore actually created the first White House library, a contribution for which she is remembered today. 


Students who participate in this activity with learn to research the answers to specific questions, will gain knowledge about the history of libraries, and will increase their vocabularies.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet


Divide students into several groups: each group should read its own part of the article “Survivor: The History of the Library."
     Group 1: Libraries in Ancient History
     Group 2: Literacy Builds Libraries (Greece)
     Group 3: The Great Library (Alexandria)
     Group 4: When in Rome (Rome)
     Group 5:  Monasticism Transforms the Library
     Group 6:  Renaissance of Learning
     Group 7:  The Golden Age
Each group should make a poster giving information about libraries in its particular time period.  Questions that might suggest poster items are as follows:
     Group 1: 

  • How old is the idea of a library?
  • What does the term “repository” mean?
  • Where is Mesopotamia?

    Group 2: 

  • What was Aristotle’s contribution to the library idea?
  • How did “books” look in ancient times?
  • Where were books reproduced? 

    Group 3: 

  • What was the purpose of the Library at Alexandria?
  • What is a “codex”?
  • What happened to the Library at Alexandria?

    Group 4: 

  • How did people use the books in the Roman public 
  • Was it hard to find someone will to take the position of library director?
  • Who were the people who formed the library staff?
  • In what unusual kind of building were libraries sometimes placed?

    Group 5: 

  • How did libraries fare in the eastern part of the divided 
    Roman empire?
  • How did Christianity affect the development of libraries?
  • How was the idea of “inter-library loan” born? 

    Group 6: 

  • How did the invention of the printing press affect the 
    development of libraries?
  • Why did only wealthy aristocrats have private libraries?
  • How did the growth of universities affect libraries? 

    Group 7: 

  • What is the oldest library collection in America?
  • What is a subscription library?
  • What was the origin of the idea of a free, public library? 

When students have completed their posters, be sure to display them for all to see.

Extending the Lesson:

This lesson can be expanded by having students interview local library personnel on the history of the local public library, and write a short history of the local institution.

Sources & Resources:


This lesson was developed by Averil McClelland, Kent State University.