What You Have, Hold
When Tamsen and her husband took a vacation to Amsterdam, they stopped by Manchester, England to catch some music by one of their favorite bands. They had a day free and asked their local friend for advice, he suggested they take a visit to Chetham’s Library, the oldest public library in the English-speaking world, and home to a powerful Red Thread.
Humphrey Chetham founded the library in 1653 because he had a goal: he wanted to bring the people of Manchester out of poverty. The problem, as he saw it, was that they didn’t have access to knowledge. His idea was that with access to knowledge we gain something that we will never, ever lose.
No matter who you are, one thing we’re all trying to figure out is how to make an enduring mark on the world. Is what we have enough? At the core of the Red Thread is the idea that you already have what you need to hold onto because it starts with what you already do. If you have clarity around that, it’s easy for people to get onboard.
- About Chetham’s Library
- Frozen in Time: A Rare Glimpse Inside the Oldest Public Library in the English-speaking World
– A few weeks ago, my husband and I went on a trip to beautiful Amsterdam, in the Netherlands. We also went to Manchester, England.
Now, Manchester is an incredible city in England. It’s got an incredible history of music, which is part of the reason why we were there, to see one of our favorite bands, but it isn’t exactly a place that you go to see the sights. But we had a day in between two concerts by that band, Elbow, and so we asked a friend of ours that lived in Manchester what to go see. His answer, “Oh, you have to go see this library.”
Now, I don’t know about you, and as much as I love libraries, that may not be where you first think about going if you want to really get a great experience in Manchester. But it turns out that library has an incredible story of an enduring and powerful Red Thread. I’m Tamsen Webster of TamsenWebster.com and this is Find the Red Thread.
While we did make a stop to see Manchester’s Central Library, that wasn’t the one that was really at the top of our friend Andy’s list. The one that he recommended was in fact the oldest continuously operating public free library in the world. It’s called Chetham’s Library, and it’s in Manchester in one of the oldest parts, and it’s housed in buildings that go back to the Middle Ages.
The library itself was founded by a man named Humphrey Chetham, and he founded it in the 16th century, in the 1500s. And he founded it for an incredibly interesting reason, because he was dedicated to helping change the fortunes of people in Manchester. He wanted to help bring, at this point, boys out of poverty. That was his goal, and the problem as he saw it was that there wasn’t any obvious easy way to do it, except if they had knowledge.
He believed the problem was simply one of access, that the more that people had access to knowledge, the better they would be able to do something different with their lives, bring it back to the community, and, overall, raise Manchester up. So this was the core of his idea. The core of his idea was with access, we gained something that we will never ever lose. In fact, it’s captured in his family motto, which was, apologies to the Latin scholars out there, but it’s Quod Tuum Tene, “What you have, hold.”
Now, I love that, and it might be tempting to think that that means hold onto everything that you accumulate in life, but for Humphrey Chetham, it had a very, very specific message, which was anything that you learn, anything that you are, your knowledge, your morals, your values, those are things that no one can ever take away from you. Once you have them, they’re yours, so what you have, hold. The change that he was trying to enact was lifting these young children up out of poverty. But we all have that experience I think that when that realization happens, when we’ve got a new perspective on something, it can radically change forever how we see a situation.
What does all of this have to do with you and anything else, because what is this library in Manchester all about? Because I think that whether we are individuals or we are representatives of corporations, or both, what we’re trying to figure out is how is it that we can make an enduring mark on the world, and the challenge is sometimes that it’s just not clear how we can do that, and whether or not what we have is enough.
And so at the core of the idea of the Red Thread, because it’s core to me, is this belief that, as I’ve said before, you already have everything you need to hold onto. The Red Thread is built to be enduring because it starts with what you already do, and what you already have done. And when you’ve got clarity around that, it’s very easy for people to say, “Oh, okay, I understand. I want to act on that, too.”
And look at the power that that simple idea, that simple Red Thread from Humphrey Chetham has today. Look at how many other places replicated that. Think about how many public libraries there are in the world today, and it all comes because there was an example set in a small, at the time, town in England 500, 600 years ago. That’s the power of a Red Thread. I’m Tamsen Webster of TamsenWebster.com. Now go find your Red Thread.