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The library as cultural memory bank

I found it important to begin by reminding my audience what a library essentially is: a memory bank. Only thanks to the existence of libraries are we able, as a culture and as a society, to keep remembering our own past. But libraries do much more than just looking back, in nostalgia or otherwise, at things that no longer exist. It is only by keeping the memory of our past alive that we are able to know who we are: just as our personal identity is based on our memories about the life we have lived — so that losing our memory means that we literally no longer know who we are — likewise our collective identity is based upon shared memories of how we have become who we are now, how we reached the place where we presently find ourselves. And it is only on that foundation — on the basis of a solid awareness of our own identity and its historical roots — that we are able to make responsible decisions in view of our future. This is true not only for individuals, but for societies as well. The preservation of libraries is therefore a matter of eminent cultural, social, and even political importance.

— Wouter Hanegraaff, “Per Aspera Ad Fontes,” The Ritman Library: Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, December 19, 2011 (site recommended by David Metcalfe)