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The Story of Libraries: From Ancient Sumeria to America LS 501: Introduction to Library & Information Studies Revised Summer 2006 C. 2003, Deborah J. Grimes, Tuscaloosa, AL Why Libraries? Reflections of society and culture Peace and tranquility “Golden Ages” Economic prosperity

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the story of libraries from ancient sumeria to america
The Story of Libraries: From Ancient Sumeria to America

LS 501: Introduction to Library & Information Studies

Revised Summer 2006

C. 2003, Deborah J. Grimes, Tuscaloosa, AL

why libraries
Why Libraries?
  • Reflections of society and culture
  • Peace and tranquility
  • “Golden Ages”
  • Economic prosperity
libraries in antiquity sumeria
Libraries in Antiquity: Sumeria

Floor Plan of royal Hittite library; thousands of clay tables found in 7 rooms

  • First to move from oral to written communication
  • Sumerian cuneiform
  • “Houses of Tablets” found (over 600,000 tablets found at 250 sites)
ashurbanipal s library
Ashurbanipal’s Library
  • Assyria, 668-626 BC
  • Royal Library at Ninevah
  • Over 30,000 tablets
  • Began as royal archive
  • Expanded with goal to collect everything else known at the time -- sent agents all over the world to copy and collect
  • Royal scribes copied and annotated ancient texts (librarians, authors, scholars)

Iraqi National Museum Deputy Director Mushin Hasan holds his head in his hands as he sits on destroyed artifacts on April 13. (MSNBC)


Mesopotamian Cuneiform Tablets, c. 3000-2000 BC, economic text, 4.75 in. high

Photographs shown with permission of Allan Anawati of Medusa Ancient Art, Champlain, NY, .

libraries in antiquity egypt
Libraries in Antiquity: Egypt
  • Hieroglyphics and papyrus
  • Purpose of writing
  • Temples, Khufu, Khafre, Edfu, Rameses II --libraries emerged about 2400 BC
  • Rosetta Stone
libraries in antiquity greece
Libraries in Antiquity: Greece
  • Crete -- from pictograph to cursive script
  • Adoption of Phoenician alphabet
  • Pergamum and parchment
  • Greek words biblos (book) + theke (container or repository) = origin of the word bibliotecha -- or library

Papyrus fragments from Glasgow University Library


From “A Bequest Unearthed. Phoenicia …” c.2003

Salim George Khalaf, A Bequest Unearthed, Phoenicia, Chapel Hill, NC, USA, 2003 (2004, 5, 6...etc.),

alexandrian library
Alexandrian Library

Biblioteca Alexandrina, c.2002

  • Greek Alexandrian library in Egypt (aka Museion) --288 BC
  • Planned by Ptolemy Soter (283 BC) but executed by his son Ptolemy Philadelphus
  • Mission to collect the entirety of Greek literature (and more) through “aggressive collection development” -- 700,00 manuscripts
  • Brucheum and Serapium
  • Book arts standardized formats and forms of literature through copies
  • Contributed to the book trade monopoly to the time of Caesar
  • Restricted use gave way to more “public” and “university” use
callimachus first known librarian
Callimachus -- First Known Librarian

News of your death. Tears, and the memory of all the times we talked the sun down the sky. You, Herakleitos of Halikarnassos, once my friend, now vacant dust, whose poems are nightingales beyond the clutch of the unseen god.


  • Greek poet, scholar, literary critic
  • Alexandrian Library -- bibliographer -- Pinakes (annotated subject catalog)
  • “Father of Librarians” or “Father of Bibliography” or “Father of Catalogers”
libraries in antiquity rome
Libraries in Antiquity: Rome
  • Greek influence
  • Personal status, private libraries
  • Roman generals brought home libraries as booty
  • Golden Age -- spread of libraries (98-190 AD)
  • Atrium Libertatis - first public library
  • Libraries of antiquity set ideals for modern, Western libraries

Cicero in his library, 18th. C. engraving

libraries in antiquity byzantine libraries
Libraries in Antiquity: Byzantine Libraries
  • Constantine I
    • Valued education and writing
    • Founded the Imperial Library 353 AD, which contained Greek, Latin, and Christian works
      • Imperial Library served both scholarly and religious mission
      • 75% Greek classics today known from Byzantine copies
libraries in antiquity moslem libraries
Libraries in Antiquity: Moslem Libraries
  • Moslem Empire flourished 650-1000 AD
    • Respect for reading and learning -- homes, palaces, universities
    • Royal Library at Damascus
    • Baghdad --center for Greek medical, scientific, and philosophical works -- 36 libraries
    • Moslem universities held not only Arabic works but also Greek, Latin, Persian
      • Particularly notable for preservation of the works of Aristotle for the Western world
from manuscripts to books
From Manuscripts to Books
  • Papyrus rolls/scrolls replaced with parchment (sheepskin) codex
  • Christians adopted parchment format for the Scriptures
  • Advantages:
    • Easier to handle than a scroll
    • More economical (both sides)
    • More compact
  • Differentiated Christian texts from others

Drawings from “Manuscript Books” by Richard W. Clement at

libraries in the middle ages christian monasticism learning
Libraries in the Middle Ages: Christian Monasticism, & Learning
  • Christian monasticism as refuge from social, economic, political chaos at Fall of the Roman Empire
  • Cassiodorus -- Vivarium (ca.540-553) library
  • Every monastery had some provision for copying manuscripts
  • Some “ordinary” scribes and some specially trained in calligraphy and art
benedictines dominicans
Benedictines & Dominicans
  • Benedictine orders viewed libraries as a place for spiritual reflection, archive religious texts, & reproduced religious and some secular texts
  • Dominican orders established concern for location, shelving, organization (by subject), labeling on spines, acquisitions and weeding (Domini canis -- Dogs of God)
libraries in the middle ages irish scriptoria missionaries
Libraries in the Middle Ages: Irish Scriptoria & Missionaries
  • 6th. Century monasteries -- source of numerous manuscripts of the Bible, including pure Latin versions sent back to Europe
  • Scriptoria established a national script and national art, characterized by superb calligraphy, illumination, and fine workmanship
  • Irish missionaries spread the Gospel (and learning and books) to England, Scotland, northern Europe
  • Chief transmitters and preservers of knowledge for more than 150 years in late Middle Ages
libraries in the middle ages the carolingian renaissance
Libraries in the Middle Ages: The Carolingian Renaissance
  • Charlemagne (768-814) -- revival of learning in the Frankish empire
  • Scriptoria in monasteries and cathedrals
  • “It was the universal multiplication of copies in the century 750-850 that enabled scholarship to survive the disasters of the following century and hand on a legacy to the future.” (Grierson)
  • Charles the Bald -- first princely bibliophile -- finest codices of the age -- personal library
libraries in the middle ages 850 to 1200 a d
Libraries in the Middle Ages: 850 to 1200 A.D.
  • Charlemagne’s empire destroyed by war and invasion
  • Meager collections -- all the more valuable
  • Book-curses and ammarius / librarius
  • Monastery writings
    • “Here, then, are the treasures of the monastery, here are riches feeding the soul with the sweetness of the heavenly life.
    • “An inexpressible number of books perished, leaving us deprived of our spiritual weapons.
    • “A monastery without a book-chest is like a castle without an armory.”
libraries in the middle ages rise of islam
Libraries in the Middle Ages: Rise of Islam
  • Late 5th. Century -- new religion and political power under Prophet Mohammed
  • Moslems raided Byzantine Empire, conquered most of Middle East, and spread books and libraries to Spain and Africa
  • Baghdad -- center of culture with “a house of wisdom” (830 AD) -- Library/academic/translation center
  • Moslems controlled paper-making while Western world continued to use papyrus and parchment for 500 yrs.
  • Book production, lavish mosque and educational libraries, catalogs, display cases, regular library staff
libraries in the middle ages the crusades
Libraries in the Middle Ages: The Crusades
  • Fourth Crusade led to sack of Constantinople and both great loss and dispersion of literary works (1200s)
  • Eventually stimulated trade, growth, prosperity, merchant (middle) class, individual freedom, advances in study of medicine
  • Students and teachers congregated in certain locations, no longer “itinerate”
  • Control over books and learning passed from monasteries to secular clergy and universities (University of Paris first) --yet decline of monasticism led to drastic neglect of libraries
  • Stationarii rented correct editions of books to students; books chained to desks
chained books
Chained Books
  • "Handwritten books and the earlier printed bookswere rare and valuable objects that had to be protected from theft, and so in the libraries of medieval monasteries and

cathedrals, the large folios (books made of paper folded once) and quartos (with sheets folded into fourths) were chained to cupboards and could be used only at the attached desks. The long rooms of benches and stalls gradually gave way to wall shelving when printed books began to be produced in smaller sizes and became less expensive."

* "library" Britannica Online. <> [Accessed 30 September 1998].

libraries in the middle ages war black death light at the end of the tunnel
Libraries in the Middle Ages: War, Black Death & Light at the End of the Tunnel
  • 14th. Century rife with war and plague, reducing resources, craftsmen, and production of reading materials
  • Charles V (1364-1380) built library which was basis of French Royal Library
  • First large private library in England (1000 vols.)
  • Aldermanic libraries in Germany
  • Public demand for books and learning
  • Sorbonne University library grew -- bequests, original manuscripts, locked to “strangers” who needed introduction, “pledge” required
  • Lectern system of library organization, shelf-list
libraries in the renaissance the age of humanism
Libraries in the Renaissance: The Age of Humanism

Petrarch, 1304-1374

(Francesco Petrarca)

  • End of the Byzantine Empire and further dispersion of Greek culture
  • Period of economic, social, and political ferment (centered in Italy)
  • Petrarch -- “Father of Humanism”
  • Increased sense of nationalism -- rise of national libraries with depository rights
  • Decline in power of the church and increased interest in politics, literature, and ancient philosophy
  • “Aristocratic enthusiasm” -- led to great private libraries (Boccaccio, Medici, Urbino) -- “acquisitions” --
libraries in the renaissance the vatican library
Libraries in the Renaissance: The Vatican Library
  • Librarian - Tortelli
  • Rome once again center of scholarly world
  • Pope Sixtus IV continued to build
  • Librarian, Platina (the Humanist)
  • Rooms worthy of the collection
  • Greek, Roman, reserves, tech. services
  • Largest, most important of 15th. C.
  • Pope Nicholas V “re-founded”
  • Added volumes from personal collection
  • Sent agents all over world to track down classics
libraries in the renaissance characteristics
Libraries in the Renaissance: Characteristics
  • Unlike medieval libraries, open to the public
  • Collections included varying points of view, schools of thought
  • Shelving and classification same as Middle Ages
  • Products of the printing press rigidly excluded by bibliophiles (not accepted until end of century)
  • Beautiful rooms and facilities
movable type
Movable Type
  • Origins of movable type
  • Gutenberg’s press (1454) and early publications
  • Results of movable type
    • Authoritative versions
    • Increase in supply of books and variety of topics
    • Greater diffusion of knowledge
    • Growth of vernacular works and increased literacy
    • Dissemination of classical literature
    • Flowering of national literature & literary criticism
    • Learning more available to all people
libraries in the reformation martin luther in the 1500s
Libraries in the Reformation: Martin Luther in the 1500s
  • Encouraged building good libraries, library buildings, and public libraries
  • Henry VIII dissolved monasteries and appropriated their library collections but much was lost or dispersed
  • Philip II -- Spain -- outstanding library of 2000 items
libraries in 1600s 1900s
Libraries in 1600s -- 1900s
  • Founding of the great national libraries (1600s)
    • Bibliotheque Nationale -- established after French Revolution (formerly Bibliotheque Royale) -- formed from confiscated church libraries and private collections
    • British Museum Library inc. 1753 -- 1 million vols. by 1870

The Reader, Fragonard

  • Samuel Pepys -- most famous private library -- 3000 vols.
  • Reading became fashionable for women (1700s)
  • Industrial Revolution -- libraries to support education
  • Globally -- expansion of public libraries


Nationale de France

the british museum library
The British Museum Library

Restored reading room inside British Museum, 2000

libraries in the new world colonial libraries
Libraries in The New World: Colonial Libraries
  • Settlers’ private libraries
    • Captain John Smith -- 2 bks
    • Miles Standish -- 50 bks
    • William Bradford -- 80 bks
    • John Harvard -- 300+ bks
    • John Winthrop -- 1000+ bks
  • First printing press -- 1639
  • Early colleges founded
  • First “public” library -- Boston -- 1655
  • Parochial libraries established
libraries in the new world the american revolution nationalism
Libraries in The New World: The American Revolution & Nationalism
  • Before the Revolution
    • Ben Franklin, wealth, and social libraries
  • After the Revolution
    • The Athenaeum -- reading rooms established
    • Mechanics’/apprentices’ libraries
    • Mill libraries
    • Circulating/lending libraries
  • Nationalism
    • Historical societies
    • State and territorial libraries
    • The Library of Congress

The Boston Athaenum


The Library of Congress

  • Authorized 1800
  • Burned 1814 by British Army
  • Jefferson restocked
  • Continuous growth since
libraries in the new world the nineteenth century
Libraries in The New World: The Nineteenth Century
  • Western expansion -- “Coonskin library”
  • Educational influences
    • 1827 -- NY School district library formed
    • 1833 -- Tax-supported free public library -- Peterborough, NH
    • 1852 -- Boston Public Library
    • Public schools
    • Johns Hopkins University (German model)
  • State library commissions
  • Influence of philanthropy

Andrew Carnegie

libraries in the new world the birth of the american library profession
Libraries in The New World: The Birth of the American Library Profession
  • 1853 -- 82 men attend librarians’ conference -- NY (over 10,000 attend ALA/CLA in Toronto 2003)
  • Key events in 1876
    • Public Libraries in the United States of America published by US Bureau of Education
    • American Library Association formed
    • Dewey’s classification system published
    • Cutter’s Rules for Making a Dictionary Catalogue published
  • First library school established at Columbia College by Dewey in 1887
the role of libraries in the information society
The Role of Libraries in the Information Society
  • The story of libraries continues another day ……...