A Walk Through the Past and Present of Books

A Walk Through the Past and Present of Books

There was a time when humans wanted to keep a record of things that caught their attention. It could’ve been the trees, the rivers, mountains or any unusual event they witnessed at some point in their lives. During the times when writing systems were not invented, they drew pictures to document their observations, thoughts, and feelings. 

At a certain point of time in the past when the great civilizations were born, writing systems were also developed. The earliest form of writing was the pictographic script. Humans in those times wrote on several objects, such as stones, bones, tree bark, clay, and metal sheets. By the time paper was invented, the writing systems were much more advanced. Manuscripts were created and then bunched together to form books.

Since then, books became the best sources of knowledge for mankind. However, there came a time when there was a need to make books accessible to a community or the general public. Thus, the idea of creating spaces for housing a collection of books or archives of manuscripts was born. These spaces came to be known as libraries.

The founding of libraries

The earliest libraries consisting of written books were found in the 5th century BC in classical Greece. The great libraries were also established in Constantinople, Alexandria, and Timbuktu. The first public library is believed to have been established in the 11th century by Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, a Fatimid Caliph. In this library, even members of the general public could choose the books they wanted and have a copy of them made for free by public scribes.

The first community-run public library was established in the mid-15th century in Cesena, Italy. It offered both religious and secular texts in the Greek, Latin, and Hebrew languages. Many public libraries were founded in Great Britain in the 17th century. The oldest public library in the English-speaking world is considered to be the Chetham’s Library, located in Manchester. 

In the 18th century, libraries were increasingly becoming public and were lending books. The modern public library grew at a faster pace in the English-speaking world towards the end of the 19th century. The world’s first modern public library was the Peterborough Town Library located in Peterborough, New Hampshire.


The commercial trading of books began towards the end of the republic in Rome. The trade of books flourished with the increasing demand for copies of Gospels and other sacred books. Modern system of bookselling began with the advent of printing. During the 16th and 17th centuries, the countries in north-western Europe’s coastal lowland region became major centers of bookselling.

Along with the technological advancements came the internet, which revolutionized the publishing and sale of books. Today, there are online stores like Amazon that sell almost all the book titles. One can also benefit from their affiliate programs and online publishing tools.

Types of bookstores

The size of the bookstore determines the number of book titles it can accommodate. Small bookstores generally house a few hundred titles, while the larger bookstores can offer more than a hundred thousand titles. As internet is easily accessible today and people can now afford the best smartphones and e-readers, books are being increasingly bought online. 

One can either choose to buy past and present books from a brick-and-mortar bookstore or an online bookstore.

Brick and mortar bookstores

Online bookstores have made it possible for people to buy their favorite books from the comfort of their homes. However, the brick-and-mortar bookstores are still important for the book publishing industry. They not only sell books but also help the publishers and authors by hosting promotional events. Some of these events include author readings, book signings, and endcap promotions.

Generally, there are three different types of brick-and-mortar bookstores:

Independent bookstores: These are bookstores with one or more localized outlets. Although they not usually as big in scale as the bookstore chains, they are important to the publishing industry. This is mainly because of their reputation among their community and a loyal customer base.

Bookstore chains: Publishers and authors hold all the major bookstore chains in high regard, as they carry the potential to buy and sell large quantities of books. They can also promote the books for publishers or authors on a bigger scale through book-promotion events across their outlets.

Used bookstores: Also called ‘second-hand bookstores’, they specialize in buying and selling used books. These books may either be in print or out of print. While these bookstores may not bring any financial benefits for the authors and publishers, they may help in spreading the word. They also help in maintaining the circulation of old and rare titles.

Online bookstores

The online bookstores came into existence with the growth of the internet and e-commerce. They eliminated the need for people to physically visit a bookstore near them to get their desired book. Now, booklovers can buy their favorite books from the comforts of their homes. Sometimes, they even get some fabulous discounts on their purchases. 

Amazon, for instance, sells its own range of e-readers called ‘Kindle’. Users of this device can browse through a variety of titles in the e-book format, buy, download, and read them. They can also use Kindle to download and read newspapers and magazines. 

Today, there are online bookstores for new as well as used books. They may not give book lovers the chance to feel a book and browse through its pages while sitting on a couch, but they certainly save time. However, there are many across the world who would still love to visit a brick-and-mortar bookstore to buy a book. In the end, it’s all a matter of choice.