Today I’m thinking about the expression to take a leaf out of somebody’s book. I’ve always assumed it refers to a leaf as being a page, rather than a green little leaf, but now I’m not entirely sure and it all comes back to libraries which seems appropriate as we’re only three sleeps away from the first Ireland Reads Day (25th of Feb 2021).
A library as a space for a collection of books entered English in the late 1300s, long before the invention of a printing press, back when books were hand-copied. The word came from Old French librarie (a collection of books or a bookseller’s shop) and before that from various forms in Latin most of which boil down to librarium (a chest for books). I wish I had a book chest, although I do already have enough stuffed bookcases to call my home a library.
The source of librarium is where we wander from the bookshop into the forest. Librarium comes from liber (book, paper, parchment). The word originally described the inner bark of trees or leaves. Several other languages (Albaian, Latvian, Russian) have similar words with the same root – all linking books with leaves and tree bark which to my mind suggests early writings were often made on such materials.
Libraries would be greener spaces if our stories were written down on leaves and bark, but I’m glad we developed paper, and digital books, to ensure the longevity of books. Sadly, many libraries are currently closed and yet every librarian I know is still working behind the scenes providing digital services like ebook and audiobook borrowing, sourcing new stock, recording video story-times for children, promoting Ireland Reads Day, and where possible cleaning down books for Click and Collect services. Days like these remind us that stories get us through and that comfort reading is vital (and calorie-free!).
Until next time, happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,
Grace (@Wordfoolery and Reading Ambassador for Ireland Reads and Louth Libraries)