4406 entries. 94 themes. Last updated December 26, 2016.

Libraries Timeline


8,000 BCE – 1,000 BCE

The Earliest Surviving Literary or Library Catalogues Circa 2,000 BCE

Two cuneiform tablets found at Nippur, (Mesopotamia; now Iraq) are inscribed with a list of Sumerian works of literature in no apparent order.  One has 68 titles, the other 48 works.  These represent the earliest surviving literary or library catalogues. 

Casson, Libraries in the Ancient World (2001) 4. 

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Survey of Ancient Libraries and Archives in the Near East 1,500 BCE – 300 BCE

Olof Pedersén, Archives and Libraries in the Ancient Near East 1500-300 B.C. (1998), remains the most comprehensive survey of the earliest western archives and libraries that I have seen, as of February 2013. It contains numerous schematic diagrams of ancient building layouts on which it identifies the location of each library or archive found. With a few exceptions, it does not discuss or attempt to summarize the contents of any archive or library covered.

1. Pedersén's study describes 253 archives and libraries from 51 different cities, of which 125 archives and libraries date from 1500-1000 BCE and 128 to 1000-300 BCE. "Since many of the very early excavations did not properly document the find-spots of tablets, it is probable that some additional archives or libraries from this period have been unearthed. . . ." (p. 238)

2. "Most of the cities or towns where archives or libraries have been unearthed were cities of medium or major size. Only rarely has material been found in smaller towns. . . ; it is unclear whether this is due to lack of written documentation in rural areas or only a consequence of a limited number of excavations of smaller settlements.

3. "Several of the archives and libraries, expecially the larger ones, were apparently placed upon wooden shelves. Evidence of wooden shelves is proposed to exist for a limited number of official archives (Tapigga 1, Harbe1), and has been assumed elsewhere (e.g., Nineveh 2). There is, however, a lack of evidence in many sites indicating the use of wooden shelves, probably due to the perishable nature of wood and a lack of sounder achaeological methodology during the earlier excavations. Sometimes the shelves were constructed of brick or designed as niches in the walls. Such imperishable shelves have been preserved in the some libraries  (Dur-Sarrukin 1 and 2, Sippar 2). The temple library in Sippar is the oldest library in history found with literary texts still standing in their original position on the shelves" (p. 244).

4. "The largest archives and libraries consist of between 1,000 and 30,000 texts. There are at least 16, perhaps even 21, archives or libraries of such size. They represent six or eight percent of the total number of 253 archives and libraries discussed here. The largest archive is the Neo-Babylonian administrative archive from the Samas temple (Sippar 1), comprising about 30,000 texts." (pp. 244-45).

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The Earliest Surviving Detailed Bibliographical Entries Circa 1,400 BCE

Collection catalogue tablet from the Hattusas Palace Archives. Hattusa, Turkey


Cuneiform tablets discovered at Hattusas (Hattusa), capital of the Hittite Empire in the Bronze Age, near modern Boğazkale, Turkey, contain detailed bibliographical entries.

"Each entry begins by giving the number of tablets that made up the work being recorded, just as modern catalogues give the number of volumes in a mult-volume publication. The entry identifies the work itself by giving the title, which may take the form of citing its first line, or by giving a capsule description of the contents. Then it tells whether the table marked the end of the work or not. At times the entry includes the name of the author or authors, or adds other useful information. . . . 

"In addition to noting missing tablets, the entries now and then provide information about shelving. There is an entry, for example, which in listing a work that happens to be in two tablets notes that 'they do not stand upright'; presumably, in the part of the palace holdings represented by this catalogue, most tablets were stored on edge while these two, exceptionally, lay flat. . . . The catalogue, it would seem, was of one particular collection that, to judge from the contents, was for use by the palace clergy. It would have been an invaluable tool: any priest who needed a ritual for a given problem, instead of picking up tablet after tablet to read the colophon if there was one, or some lines of text if there was not, had only to run an eye over the entries in the catalogue. It was a limited tool; the order of the entries is more or less haphazard (alphabetization, for example, lay over a millennium and a half in the future) and they give no indication of location. But it was, no question about it, a significant step beyond the simple listing of titles of the Nippur tablets. 

"The finds at Hattusas, in short, reveal the development of procedures for organizing a collection of writings. The palace holdings were certainly extensive enough to require them; the catalogue alone, representing as we have seen, just the clergy's working library, lists well over one hundred titles. . . ." (Casson, Libraries in the Ancient World [2001] 5-8).

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1,000 BCE – 300 BCE

Knowledge as Power: King Ashurbanipal Forms the Earliest Systematically Collected Library as Distinct from an Archive 668 BCE – 627 BCE

In an effort to collect all knowledge, Ashurbanipal, King of Assyria from 668 to 627 BCE, collected a library at his capital city Nineveh, containing, it has been estimated, 20,000–30,000 clay tablets written in cuneiform script

"Ashurbanipal was one of the few Assyrian kings to have been trained in the scribal arts—by one Balasî , a senior royal scholar " (Robson, "The Clay Tablet Book," Eliot & Rose (eds) A Companion to the History of the Book [2007] 75).

"Recent cataloguing in the British Museum has enumerated some 3,700 scholarly tablets from Ashurbanipal's Library written in Babylonian script and dialect—about 13 percent of the entire library. Ashurbanipal's obsession with Babylonian books did not, then, completely overwhelm indigenous production, but he did view them as highly valuable cultural capital; their forced removal to Nineveh undermined Babylonian claims to the intellectual heritage of the region and thus pretensions to political hegemony, while reinforcing Ashurbanipal's own self-image as guardian of Mesopotamian culture and power" (Robson, op. cit., 77).

The library was discovered at Nineveh by archaeologist/explorer Austen Henry Layard in 1849, and is considered the earliest systematically collected library, as distinct from a government archive. Clay tablets such as those in Ashburbanipal's library, or other cuneiform archives, were not typically fired in kilns for preservation. However, it is thought that a significant portion of Ashurbanipal's library survived to the present because the clay tablets were baked in fires set during the Median sack of Nineveh in 612 CE. Layard published an account of his discovery of the library in Discoveries in the Ruins of Nineveh and Babylon (2 vols., 1853) from which Clark, The Care of Books, page 2, reproduced the floor-plan of Ashurbanipal's record room:

"The tablets have been sorted under the following heads: History; Law; Science; Magic; Dogma; Legends: and it has been shewn (1) that there was a special functionary to take charge of them; (2) that they were arranged in series, with special precautions for keeping the tablets forming a particular series in their proper sequence; (3) that there was a general catalogue and probably a class-catalogue as well" (Clark, p. 4). 

To deter thieves, Ashurbanipal had the following curse written on many or all of his tablets. It is the earliest known book curse, and because it was also a means of identifying his property it might also be considered an early ex-libris, albeit a verbose one:

“I have transcribed upon tablets the noble products of the work of the scribe which none of the kings who have gone before me had learned, together with the wisdom of Nabu insofar as it existeth [in writing]. I have arranged them in classes, I have revised them and I have placed them in my palace, that I, even I, the ruler who knoweth the light of Ashur, the king of the gods, may read them. Whosoever shall carry off this tablet, or shall inscribe his name on it, side by side with mine own, may Ashur and Belit overthrow him in wrath and anger, and may they destroy his name and posterity in the land" (Drogin, Anathema! [1983] 52-53).

In 1872 English Assyriologist George Smith of the British Museum edited the surviving records of Ashurbanipal's life on clay cylinders and tablets and issued cuneiform transcriptions with interlinear translations as History of Assurbanipal, Translated from the Cuneiform Inscriptions (1872).

The surviving portion of Ashurbanipal's library includes 660 cuneiform tablets that concern medicine. These were published in facsimile for the first time, but without translation, by Reginald C. Thompson as Assyrian Medical Texts. From the Originals in the British Museum (1923).

Menant, La bibliothèque du palais de Ninive (1880). 

(This entry was last revised on 12-27-2014.)

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Possible Libraries in Ancient Greece Circa 410 BCE

"The increase of the book trade made it possible for private individuals to form libraries. Even if the tradition that sixth-century tyrants such as Pisistratus of Athens and Polycrates of Samos possessed large collections of books is discounted (Anthenaeus I.3A), it is clear that by the end of the fifth century private libraries existed. Aristophanes pokes fun at Euripides for drawing heavily on literary sources in composing his tragedies (Frogs 943), and his own work, being full of parody and allusion, must have depended to some extent on a personal book collection.

"There is no trace of any general library maintained at the public expense at Athens, but it is likely that official copies of plays performed at the leading festivals such as the Dionysia were kept at the theatre or in the public record office. Pseudo-Plurarch (Lives of the ten orators 841F) ascribes to the orator Lycurgus (c. 390-324 BCE) a proposal to keep official copies in this way, but the need would probably have arisen earlier. We know that after the original performance plays were revived from time to time. New copies of the text must have been needed for the actors, and if they had been obliged to obtain these by a process of transcription from private copies it would be surprising that an almost complete range of plays survived into the Hellenistic age" (Reynolds & Wilson, Texts and Transmission, 3rd ed. [1991] 5).

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The Library of Aristotle: Basis for the Royal Library of Alexandria? 384 BCE – 321 BCE

The library of Aristotle is the first private library concerning which there is considerable discussion among early commentators. Writing more than 300 years after Aristotle's death, in the first decades of the first century CE, the geographer Strabo provided one of the most detailed early accounts in his Geographia XIII, 1, 54-55, stating, among other things that Aristotle was "the first man, so far as I know, to have collected books and to have taught the kings in Egypt how to arrange a library." Strabo's account in English translation is below. The Egyptian kings were referred to were probably the Ptolemies in Alexandria. The translation is by H. L. Jones (London, 1929); the links are, of course, mine:

"From Scepsis came the Socratic philosophers Rastus and Coriscus and Neleus the son of Coriscus, this last a man who not only was a pupil of Aristotle and Theophrastus, but also inherited the library of Theophrastus, which included that of Aristotle. At any rate, Aristotle bequeathed his own library to Theophrastus, to whom he also left his school; and he is the first man, so far as I know, to have collected books and to have taught the kings in Egypt how to arrange a library. Theophrastus bequeathed it to Neleus; and Neleus took it to Scepsis [at the present site of the village of Kurşuntepe, near the town of Bayramiç in Turkey] and bequeathed it to his heirs, ordinary people, who kept the books locked up and not even carefully stored. But when they heard how zealously the Attalid kings to whom the city was subject were searching for books to build up the library in Pergamum, they hid the books underground in a kind of trench. But much later, when the books had been damaged by moisture and moths, their descendants sold them to Apellicon of Teos for a large sum of money, both the books of Aristotle and those of Theophrastus. But Apellicon was a bibliophile rather than a philosopher; and therefore, seeking a restoration of the parts that had been eaten through, he made new copies of the text, filling up the gaps incorectly, and published the books full of errors. The result was that the earlier school of Peripatetics who came after Theophrastus had no books at all, with the exception of only a few, mostly exoteric works, and were therefore able to philosophise about nothing in a practical way, but only to talk bombast about commonplace propositions, whereas the later school, from the time the books in question appeared, though better able to philosophise and Aristotelise, were forced to call most of their statements probabilities, because of the large number of errors. Rome also contributed much to it; for immediately after the death of Apellicon, Sulla, who had captured Athens carried off Apelicon's library to Rome, where Tyrannion the grammarion, who was fond of Aristotle, got it in his hands by paying court to the librarian, as did also certain booksellers who used bad copyists and would not collate the texts— a thing that also takes place in the case of the other books that are copied for selling both here [Rome] and at Alexandria.".

"Another account relates that Ptolemy II (285-246 B.C.) acquired Aristotle’s library directly from Neleus and brought it to Egypt to become a part of the great Alexandrian library. It is possible that both stories are partially correct, and it is quite probable that copies at least of Aristotle’s library reached Alexandria eventually” (Harris, History of Libraries in the Western World 4th ed. [1999] 41).

Blum, Kallimachos: The Alexandrian Library and the Origins of Bibliography, tr. by H. Wellisch (1991) 2.6."The Library of Aristotle," 53-64.

(This entry was last revised on 08-05-2014).

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The First Description of Book Scorpions, by Aristotle Circa 350 BCE

Among the many original descriptions in Aristotle's  De historia animalium, the founding work of descriptive zoology, was the first to description of pseudoscorpions. These Aristotle probably found among book rolls in a library where they would have been feeding on booklice. Pseudoscorpions are generally beneficial to humans since they prey on clothes moth larvae, carpet beetle larvae, booklice, ants, mites, and small flies. They are tiny and inoffensive, and are rarely seen due to their size. Aristotle wrote in Book V, Chapter 26 of his De historia animalium:

"1. There are also other minute animals, as I observed before, some of which occur in wool, and in woollen goods; as the moths, which are produced in the greatest abundance when the wool is dusty, as especially if a spider is enclosed with them, for this creature is thirsty, and dries up any fluid which may be present. This worm also occurs in garments. There is one which occurs in old honeycombs, like the creature which inhabits dry wood; this appears to be the least of all creatures, it is called acari, it is white and small. Others also are found in books, some of which are like those which occur in garments; others are like scorpions; they have no tails, and are very small. And on the whole, they occur in everything, so to say, which from being dry, becomes moist, or being moist, becomes dry, if it has any life in it" (Aristotle's History of Animals, In Ten Books, Translated by Richard Cresswell [London, 1862] 135). 

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300 BCE – 30 CE

The Royal Library of Alexandria: The Largest Collection of Recorded Information in the Ancient World Circa 300 BCE

The Royal Library of Alexandria, associated with the Museum or Mouseion at Alexandria (Μουσεῖον τῆς Ἀλεξανδρείας), was probably founded around 300 BCE under the reign of Ptolemy I Soter or Ptolemy II. Though it was the largest library in the ancient world, and the repository of so much Greek literature that was eventually passed down to us, and also so much that was eventually lost, the number of papyrus rolls preserved at Alexandria at its peak, or any other time, is unknown. At its peak, the number of rolls that it might have held has been estimated by numerous scholars, without any reliable evidence, from as many as 400,000 to 700,000 to as few as 40,000, or even less. A typical papyrus roll probably contained a text about the length of one book of Homer.

Writing in 2002, American classical scholar Roger Bagnall argued that very high numbers of rolls traditionally estimated by scholars to have been held by the Royal Library of Alexandria, such as 400,000 to 700,000 rolls, may reflect modern expectations rather than the extent of written literature that may have been produced by ancient Greek writers: 

"The computer databank of ancient Greek literature, the Thesurus Linguae Graecae, contains about 450 authors of whom at least a few words survive in quotation and whose lives are thought to have begun by the late fourth century. No doubt there were authors extant in the early Hellenistic period of whom not a line survives today, but we cannot estimate their numbers. Of most of these 450, we have literally a few sentences. There are another 175 known whose lives are placed, or whose births are placed in the third century B. C. Most of these authors probably wrote what by modern standards was a modest amount—a few book-rolls full, perhaps. Even the most voluminous authors of the group, like the Athenian dramatists, probably filled nor more than a hundred rolls or so. If the average writer filled 50 rolls, our known authors to the end of the third century would have produced 31,250 rolls. . . .

"To look at matters another way, just, 2,871,000 words of Greek are preserved for all authors known to have lived at least in part in the fourth century or earlier. Adding the third and second centuries brings the total to 3,773,000 words (or about 12,600 pages of 300 words each). At an average of 15,000 words per roll, this corpus would require a mere 251 rolls. Even at an average of 10,000 words per roll the figure would be only 377 rolls. It was estimated by one eminent ancient historian that the original bulk of historical writings in ancient Greece amounted to something like forty times what has survived. If so, our estimate would run to an original body of 10,000 to 15,000 rolls. This may be too low, but is it likely that it is too low by a factor of thirty or forty, and that only one word in 1,500 or 2,000 has survived? . . . (Roger S. Bagnall, "Alexandria: Library of Dreams," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 146 (2002) 348-62, quoting from 352-53).

Traditionally the Alexandrian Library is thought to have been based upon the library of Aristotle. By tradition it is also believed, without concrete evidence, that the much of the collection of rolls was acquired by order of Ptolemy III, who supposedly required all visitors to Alexandria to surrender rolls in their possession. These writings were then copied by official scribes, the originals were put into the Library, and the copies were delivered to the previous owners.

The Alexandrian Library was associated with a school and a museum. Scholars at Alexandria were responsible for the editing and standardization for many earlier Greek texts. One of the best-known of these editors was Aristophanes of Byzantium, a director of the library, whose work on the text of the Iliad may be preserved in the Venetus A manuscript, but who was also known for editing authors such as Pindar and Hesiod.

Though it is known that portions of the Alexandrian Library survived for several centuries, the various accounts of the library's eventual destruction are contradictory. The Wikipedia article on the Library of Alexandria outlined four possible scenarios for its destruction:

  1. Julius Caesar's fire in The Alexandrian War, in 48 BCE
  2. The attack of Aurelian in the Third century CE
  3. The decree of Theophilus in 391 CE. (Destruction of pagan literature by early Christians.)
  4. The Muslim conquest in 642 CE, or thereafter.

♦ Other factors in the eventual destruction of the contents of the Alexandrian Library might have included the decay of the papyrus rolls as a result of the climate. Most of the papyrus rolls and fragments that survived after the Alexandrian Library did so in the dry sands of the Egyptian desert. Papyrus rolls do not keep well either in dampness or in salty sea air, to which they were likely exposed in the library located in the port of Alexandria. Thus, independently of the selected library destruction scenario, because of decay of the storage medium, or as a result of fires, rodent damage, natural catastrophes, or neglect, it is probable that significant portions of the information in the Alexandrian library were lost before the library was physically destroyed.

Whatever the circumstances and timing of the physical destruction of the Library, it is evident that by the eighth century the Alexandrian Library was no longer a significant institution. 

(This entry was last revised on March 22, 2014.)

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The Dead Sea Scrolls 300 BCE – 68 CE

A column of the Copper Scroll found in Cave Three.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, which were discovered between 1947 and 1956 in eleven caves near Khirbet Qumran, on the northwestern shores of the Dead Sea have been dated between 300 BCE and 68 CE, on the basis of historical, paleographic, and linguistic evidence, as well as carbon-14 dating. Because they date from the late Second Temple Period, when Jesus of Nazareth lived, the Dead Sea Scrolls are older than any other surviving manuscripts of the Hebrew Scriptures, except for the Nash Papyrus, by almost one thousand years. They are preserved in The Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

“Most of the scrolls were written in Hebrew, with a smaller number in Aramaic or Greek. Most of them were written on parchment, with the exception of a few written on papyrus. The vast majority of the scrolls survived as fragments—only a handful were found intact. Nevertheless, scholars have managed to reconstruct from these fragments approximately 850 different manuscripts of various lengths.

"The manuscripts fall into three major categories: biblical, apocryphal, and sectarian. The biblical manuscripts comprise some two hundred copies of books of the Hebrew Bible, representing the earliest evidence for the biblical text in the world. Among the apocryphal manuscripts (works that were not included in the Jewish biblical canon) are works that had previously been known only in translation, or that had not been known at all. The sectarian manuscripts reflect a wide variety of literary genres: biblical commentary, religious-legal writings, liturgical texts, and apocalyptic compositions. Most scholars believe that the scrolls formed the library of the sect (the Essenes?) that lived at Qumran. However it appears that the members of this sect wrote only part of the scrolls themselves, the remainder having been composed or copied elsewhere” (Shrine of the Book. Introduction to the Dead Sea Scrolls, accessed 12-24-2009).

In September 2011 The Digital Dead Sea Scrolls website, a partnership between the Israel Museum in Jerusalem and Google, made five of the scrolls searchable online as part of a project to provide searchable online facsimiles of all the scrolls.

In December 2012 the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library was launched by the Israel Antiquities Authority in partnership with Google Israel, making high resolution images of the scrolls freely available. The site was launched 11 years after the completion of the publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls, initiated and sponsored by the IAA, and 65 years after the first scrolls were unearthed in the Caves of Qumran.

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Philology Probably Begins at the Royal Library of Alexandria Circa 280 BCE

Fragments of the Odyssey, most likely copied in Alexandria.

Commentaries on the Iliad and the Odyssey written during the Hellenistic period at Alexandria began exploring the textual inconsistencies of the poems which occurred as the result of different scribes writing down differing versions of poems passed down through the oral tradition. Examples of these variant readings have survived in Bodleian Library papyrus (MS. Gr. class. b.3 [P]). The process of comparing different manuscript texts— such as would have been preserved at the Alexandrian Library— to arrive at what might be the “canonical” text, was the beginning of philology

The first critical edition of Homer was made by Zenodotus of Ephesus, first superintendant of the Library of Alexandria, who lived during the reigns of the first two Ptolemies, and was at the height of his reputation about 280 BCE. His colleagues in librarianship were Alexander of Aetolia and Lycophron of Chalcis, to whom were allotted the tragic and comic writers respectively, Homer and other epic poets being assigned to Zenodotus.

"Having collated the different manuscripts in the library, he expunged or obelized doubtful verses, transposed or altered lines, and introduced new readings. It is probable that he was responsible for the division of the Homeric poems into twenty-four books each (using capital Greek letters for the Iliad, and lower-case for the Odyssey), and possibly was the author of the calculation of the days of the Iliad in the Tabula Iliaca" (Wikipedia article on Zenodotus, accessed 11-26-2008).

The most famous Greek manuscript of the IliadVenetus A (Marcianus Graecus Z. 454 [=822]), a tenth century codex preserved at the Biblioteca Marciana, Venice, contains several layers of annotations, glosses, and commentaries known as the "A scholia." These are thought to preserve editorial comments made by scholars at the Royal Library of Alexandria, as well as scholia accumulated by late antique annotators and philologists until the manuscript was written at Constantinople during the Macedonian Renaissance.

(This entry was last revised on 12-20-2014.)

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The Archive or Library in the Temple of Edfu 237 BCE – 57 BCE

The Temple of Edfu dedicated to the falcon god Horus, located on the west bank of the Nile in the city of Edfu, which was known in Greco-Roman times as Apollonopolis Magna after the chief god Horus-Apollo, was built in the Ptolemaic period between 237 and 57 BCE. Inscriptions on its walls provide information on language, myth and religion during the Greco-Roman period in ancient Egypt. 

In this temple "there is a small room near the court which was used as an archive. The walls show inscriptions concerning 'many chests of books and large leather rolls.' They included all the literature appertaining to a temple; liturgy for daily rites and feast days; manuscripts containing the building plans and instructions for the decorations on the walls of the temple; incantations and priestly lore but also documents relevant to the administration" (Hussein 21).

"Because of the great quantity of extant papyrus rolls, which nevertheless form only a fraction of these existing in ancient times, the question arises as to how and where the Egyptians collected and arranged their books. The texts indicate that papyri were kept because we read that copying was necessary when the original had become worm-eaten. Two institutions could have served as depositories: the 'mansion of books' and the 'mansion of life'. 'Mansion of books' was the designation both for the archives where books were kept and an adminstrative office. . . .The 'mansion of life' was more than a library—it was a kind of university. Here books of all kinds were not only collected and classified, they were also written and handed down to the younger generation. It was the place where all branches of knowledge were cultivated and taught. The term 'mansion of life' also indicated that its prupose was primarily the custodianship of religious texts and the celebration of rites connected with the preservation of the king's life and that of Osiris.

"We are not able to say according to which principles libraries in the 'mansion of books' and in the 'mansion of life' were arranged. But we know. nevertheless, that the collected rolls were listed in catalogues, according to their content, and kept in chests (or other receptacles) on which a tablet with the titles of the books could be fastened or whose covers bore paintings indicating the content of the rolls" (Hussein, Origins of the Book. Egypt's contribution to the development of the book from papyrus to codex [1970] 21-22).

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Destroying Most Records of the Past Along with 460, or More, Scholars 213 BCE – 206 BCE

Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang.

Following the advice of his chief adviser Li Si, Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of a unified China, ordered most previously existing books to be burned in order to avoid scholars' comparison of his reign with the past. Records which were allowed to escape destruction were:

"books on astrology, agriculture, medicine, divination, and the history of the Qin state. Owning the Book of Songs or the Classic of History was to be punished especially severely. According to the later Records of the Grand Historian, the following year Qin Shi Huang had some 460 scholars buried alive for owning the forbidden books. The emperor's oldest son Fusu criticised him for this act. The emperor's own library still had copies of the forbidden books, but most of these were destroyed later when Xiang Yu burned the palaces of Xianyang in 206 BCE (Wikipedia article on Qin Shi Huang, accessed 01-30-2010).

The Wikipedia article, Burning of books and burying of scholars, presents a different account, quoting the Records of the Grand Historian in footnotes, both in Chinese and English translation:

"According to the Records of the Grand Historian, after Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, unified China in 221 BCE, his chancellor Li Si suggested suppressing the freedom of speech, unifying all thoughts and political opinions. This was justified by accusations that the intelligentsia sang false praise and raised dissent through libel.

"Beginning in 213 BCE, all classic works of the Hundred Schools of Thought — except those from Li Ssu's own school of philosophy known as legalism — were subject to book burning.

"Qin Shi Huang burned the other histories out of fear that they undermined his legitimacy, and wrote his own history books. Afterwards, Li Ssu took his place in this area.

"Li Ssu proposed that all histories in the imperial archives except those written by the Qin historians be burned; that the Classic of Poetry, the Classic of History, and works by scholars of different schools be handed in to the local authorities for burning; that anyone discussing these two particular books be executed; that those using ancient examples to satirize contemporary politics be put to death, along with their families; that authorities who failed to report cases that came to their attention were equally guilty; and that those who had not burned the listed books within 30 days of the decree were to be banished to the north as convicts working on building the Great Wall. The only books to be spared in the destruction were books on medicine, agriculture and prophecy.   

"After being deceived by two alchemists while seeking prolonged life, Qin Shi Huang ordered more than 460 alchemists in the capital to be buried alive in the second year of the proscription, though an account given by Wei Hong in the 2nd century added another 700 to the figure. As some of them were also Confucius scholars Fusu counselled that, with the country newly unified, and enemies still not pacified, such a harsh measure imposed on those who respect Confucius would cause instability. However, he was unable to change his father's mind, and instead was sent to guard the frontier in a de facto exile.

"The quick fall of the Qin Dynasty was attributed to this proscription. Confucianism was revived in the Han Dynasty that followed, and became the official ideology of the Chinese imperial state. Many of the other schools had disappeared" (Wikipedia article on Burning of books and burying of scholars, accessed 01-30-2010).

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The Origins of Bibliography Circa 200 BCE

A digital recreation of the Library of Alexandria.

Around 200 BCE Kallimachos (Callimachus), a renowned poet and head of the Alexandrian Library, compiled a catalogue of its holdings which he called Pinakes (Tables or Lists). Supposedly extending to 120 papyrus rolls, this catalogue amounted to a systematic survey of Greek literature up to its time. It also represented the origins of bibliography. Only a few fragments survived the eventual destruction of the library, together with a scattering of references to it in other ancient works.

Callimachus’s bibliographical methods would not be out of place in a modern library; an analysis of the eight remaining fragments of the Pinakes shows that Callimachus

"1. divided the authors into classes and within these classes if necessary into subdivisions;

"2. arranged the authors in the classes or subdivisions alphabetically;

"3. added to the name of each author (if possible) biographical data;

"4. listed under an author’s name the titles of his works, combining works of the same kind to groups (no more than that can be deduced from the eight citations); and

"5. cited the opening words of each work as well as

"6. its extent, i.e., the number of lines" (Blum, p. 152).

"The Pinakes were neither an inventory nor an exhaustive catalog of the works in the library: they did not list all the copies of a work that the library owned and did not give an indication of how to locate a book in the library—actual access would have required consulting the librarian. The Pinakes built on preexisting practices of list making (including Aristotle's pinakes of poets), sorting (such as Theophrastus' doxographies sorted topically and chronologically), and alphabetizing, the principles of which were likely already understood although they had never been put to such extensive use before" (Blair, Too Much to Know. Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age [201] 17).

The surviving fragments of Kallimachos's Pinakes were first published in print in Hymni, epigrammata et fragmenta, edited by Theodor (Theodorus) J. G. F. Graevius et al. (2 vols, Utrecht, 1697). That edition included the first edition of the monumental 758-page commentary by Ezechiel Spanheim, and also incorporated the 420 fragments collected and elucidated by the English theologian, classical scholar and critic Richard Bentley, whose reading of these fragments represents “the earliest example of a really critical method applied to such a work" (Dictionary of National Biography). ". . . many even of his boldest conjectures have been completely confirmed by the papyri" (Pfeiffer, History of Classical Scholarship 1300-1850, 154.) Among the other commentaries and notes assembled in Graevius's edition are those by Henri Estienne, Nichodemus Frischlin, Bonaventura Vulcanius, and Anne Dacier.

♦ Apart from his contributions to bibliography, Kallimachos is known in the history of books for his quip in Fragments (ed. Pfeiffer) 465 that a "big book is a big evil" (μεγα βιβλιον μεγα κακων), a statement that he made in defense of the short lyric and elegiac poems he wrote and favored over longer epic poems. This has also been translated as "A great book is a great evil."

Breslauer & Folter, Bibliography. Its History and Development (1984) no. 1.  Blum, Kallimachos. The Alexandrian Library and the Origins of Bibliography. Translated by Hans H. Wellisch (1991).

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The Very Long Process of Canonization of the Hebrew Bible Circa 200 BCE – 200 CE

Evidence suggests that the process of canonization of the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) occurred over several centuries, probably between 200 BCE and 200 CE.

"Rabbinic Judaism recognizes the twenty-four books of the Masoretic Text, commonly called the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible. Evidence suggests that the process of canonization occurred between 200 BC and AD 200. A popular position is that the Torah was canonized circa 400 BC, the Prophets circa 200 BC, and the Writings circa AD 100  perhaps at a hypothetical Council of Jamnia—this position, however, is increasingly criticised by modern scholars. The book of Deuteronomy includes a prohibition against adding or subtracting (4:2, 12:32) which might apply to the book itself (i.e. a "closed book," a prohibition against future scribal editing) or to the instruction received by Moses on Mt. Sinai. The book of 2 Maccabees, itself not a part of the Jewish canon, describes Nehemiah (around 400 BC) as having "founded a library and collected books about the kings and prophets, and the writings of David, and letters of kings about votive offerings" (2:13-15). The Book of Nehemiah suggests that the priest-scribe Ezra brought the Torah back from Babylon to Jerusalem and the Second Temple (8-9) around the same time period. Both I and II Maccabees suggest that Judas Maccabeus (around 167 BC) likewise collected sacred books (3:42-50, 2:13-15, 15:6-9), indeed some scholars argue that the Jewish canon was fixed by the Hasmonean dynasty. However, these primary sources do not suggest that the canon was at that time closed; moreover, it is not clear that these particular books were identical in content to those that later became part of the Masoretic text. Today, there is no scholarly consensus as to when the Jewish canon was set" (Wikipedia article on Development of the Jewish Bible Canon, accessed 12-24-2009).

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The Library of Pergamum (Pergamon) is Founded 197 BCE – 159 BCE

The ruins of the Library.

Around 197-159 BCE rulers of Pergamum (Pergamon; now Bergama in Turkey) founded a major library. Whether this was in competition with the Alexandrian Library, or just a worthy independent effort, remains the subject of speculation. This project, and the vast buildings constructed for the purpose, is associated with the rule of king Eumenes II. The Library of Pergamum supposedly contained 200,000 papyrus rolls— the second largest library in the ancient world; however, we have no factual basis for calculating the number of rolls either at Alexandria or at Pergamum.

"Legend has it that Mark Antony later gave Cleopatra all of the 200,000 volumes at Pergamum for the Library at Alexandria as a wedding present, emptying the shelves and ending the dominance of the Library at Pergamum. No index or catalog of the holdings at Pergamum exists today, making it impossible to know the true size or scope of this collection.

"Historical accounts claim that the library possessed a large main reading room, lined with many shelves. An empty space was left between the outer walls and the shelves to allow for air circulation. This was intended to prevent the library from becoming overly humid in the warm climate of Anatolia and can be seen as an early attempt at library preservation. Manuscripts were written on parchment, rolled, and then stored on these shelves. A statue of Athena, the goddess of wisdom, stood in the main reading room" (Wikipedia article on Library of Pergamum, accessed 12-24-2009).

♦ Pergamum is sometimes associated with the invention of parchment (charta pergamena). However, writing on prepared animal skins had a long history. Some Egyptian Fourth Dynasty texts were written on parchment. Though the Assyrians and the Babylonians inscribed their cuneiform on clay tablets, they also wrote on parchment from the 6th century BCE onward, and Jews wrote on parchment rolls. It has been argued that the Pergamene authorities were forced to fall back on parchment when supplies of papyrus from Egypt were interrupted during the invasions of Egypt by Antiochus IV Epihanes. During this period scholars from Pergamum may have introduced parchment to Rome where the shortage of papyrus would have had an even greater impact. It has also been conjectured that the Pergamenes may have discovered that "by simplifying the composition of the pelt preparation bath, allied with a special mode of drying wet unhaired pelts (by stretching them as much as possible) smooth taut sheets of uniform opacity could easily be obtained" (Roberts & Skeat, The Birth of the Codex [1983] 9).

Clark, The Care of Books (1901) 9 reproduces a plan of the "temple and precinct of Athena, Pergamon; with that of the Library and adjacent buildings."

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The Earliest Bibliographical Classification System Circa 53 BCE – 23 CE

The Seven Epitomes is thought to have been compiled by the Chinese astronomer, historian and editor Liu Xin (Liu Hsin) during the Xin Dynasty, circa 53 BCE to 23 CE. A by-product of a collation project commissioned by the Emperor Ch'eng Ti of the Han Dynasty, it was the catalogue of all collated books housed in the libraries of the Inner Court at the time, initiated under the supervision of Liu Xiang (Liu Hsiang). These had been recovered after the burning of the books under the rule of the First Emperor Qin Shi Huang in 213-206 BCE.

Although the original classification system no longer survives, Chinese bibliographers believe that the majority of its entries, in a much abridged form, and its original classification structure, have been preserved in the “Bibliographic Treatise” of the History of the [Former] Han Dynasty (Han shu “yi wen zhi”, compiled about a hundred years later. Scholars estimate that there were more than six hundred annotated entries in the Seven Epitomes arranged according to a carefully designed classification system. The title of the catalogue seems to suggest that the system consisted of seven epitomes (classes). However, the “Treatise” included only six classes (without “Ji lüe” or the Collective Epitome). Since the Seven Epitomes is no longer extant, scholars have not been able to reach a consensus regarding the nature and content of Ji lüe. One speculation that has been widely accepted is that Ji lüe was the collection of brief summaries now seen at the end of each of the six main classes and their divisions. Nevertheless, no one disputes that the classification in the Seven Epitomes was a six-fold scheme.

"There are six classes and divisions in the Seven Epitomes:

"1. Liu yi lüe (Epitome of the Six Arts) consisted of nine divisions, including one for each of the Six Classics (Odes, Documents, Rites, Music, Changes, and Spring and Autumn Annals), Analects of Confucius, Book of Filial Piety, and philology.

"2. Zhu zi lüe (Epitome of the Masters) consisted of ten divisions, including nine major affi liations of thought commonly known during the Warring States and an added affi liation of Novelists. "

3. Shi fu lüe (Epitome of Lyrics and Rhapsodies) consisted of fi ve divisions, including three styles of poetry and two other genres. "

4. Bing shu lüe (Epitome of Military Texts) consisted of four divisions (tactics, terrain, yin/yang, and military skills).

"5. Shu shu lüe (Epitome of Numbers and Divination) consisted of six divisions, including astronomy, chronology, fi ve phases correlative elements, divination, miscellaneous fortune-telling, and geomancy).

"6. Fang ji lüe (Epitome of Formulae and Techniques) consisted of four divisions, including medical classics, pharmacology, sexology, and longevity"  (Hurl-Li Lee, "Origins of the Main Classes in the First Chinese Bibliographic Classification" https://pantherfile.uwm.edu/hurli/www/Chinese/Lee_ISKO2008.pdf, accessed 01-11-2011).

Tsuen-Hsuin Tsien, "A History of Bibliographic Classification in China," The Library Quarterly XXII (1952)  307-324.

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Julius Caesar Introduces a Calendar and Plans a Great Library 46 BCE


In 46 BCE Julius Caesar introduced the Julian calendar. The Julian Calendar has a regular year of 365 days divided into 12 months, and a leap day is added every four years, so the average Julian year is 365.25 days. This calendar remained in use into the 20th century in some countries and is still used by many national Orthodox churches. "However with this scheme too many leap days are added with respect to the astronomical seasons, which on average occur earlier in the calendar by about 11 minutes per year, causing it to gain a day about every 128 years. It is said that Caesar was aware of the discrepancy, but felt it was of little importance."

Caesar planned to establish a public library to equal or surpass the one at Alexandria. He appointed Marcus Terentius Varro, a noted scholar and book collector, to gather copies of the best-known literature for a Roman public library. However these plans were, of course, shelved when Caesar was assassinated in 44 BCE.

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The First-Known Public Library in Rome Circa 37 BCE

A coin depicting the profile and birth of Gaius Asinius Pollio. (View Larger)

About 37 BCE Gaius Asinius Pollio, general, lawyer, orator, poet, friend of Virgil and Horace, and Consul in 40 BCE, having amassed a fortune in his conquest of Dalmatia and/or campaigns in Parthia, consolidated several book collections already in Rome, possibly including those of Varro and Sulla, to form a library in the Temple of Liberty (Atrium Libertatis) on the Aventine Hill.

As was standard, the library had Greek and Latin wings. "Public archives had already been housed there, but Pollio reorganized the collection, added the libraries he had acquired, and opened the whole to the public about 37 B.C., making it the first-known public library in Rome” (Harris, History of Libraries in the Western World 4th ed. [1999] 57.)

Clark, The Care of Books (1902) p. 12 quotes Pliny's remark about Asinius Pollio: "he was the first to make men's talents public property (ingenia hominium rem publicam fecit)."

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Filed under: Libraries

Book Trade and Libraries in the Roman Empire Circa 30 BCE

"By the end of the Roman Republic the institutions and processes that govern and guard the transmission of the written word were already in existence, and under Augustus and his successors they were refined and consolidated. The book trade became more important, and we soon hear of the names of established booksellers: Horace speaks of the Sosii, later Quintilian and Martial tell of the Tryphon, Atrectus, and others. By the time of the Younger Seneca book collecting was derided as a form of extravagant ostentation. Augustus founded two public libraries, one in 28 B.C. in the Temple of Apollo on the Palatine, the other, not long afterwards, in the Porticus Octaviae. Thereafter libraries were a common form of both private and imperial munificence, in Rome and the provinces. Pliny founded a library in his native Comum and provided money for its upkeep; the best-preserved (and restored) ancient library is that built at Ephesus in memory of Titus Julius Celsus, proconsul of Asia A.D. 106-7; one of the most famous was the Bibliotheca Ulpia founded by Trajan, which long survived the disasters of fire and strife and was still standing in the fifth century" (Reynolds & Wilson, Scribes and Scholars, 3rd. ed. [1991] 24-25).

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The Emperor Augustus Builds Two Public Libraries 28 BCE


“Beginning with Augustus, the Roman emperors took over the task of building libraries in Rome. Actually, Augustus was responsible for two public libraries. The first, in the Temple of Apollo, was begun in 36 B.C. and dedicated in 28. B.C. It was divided into two separate collections, one Greek and one Latin. Pompeius Macer was the first librarian, and Julius Hyginus, a noted grammarian, also served in that capacity. Later enlarged by the Emperors Tiberius and Caligula, this library on the Palatine Hill was one of the two major libraries in Rome for several hundred years. It was damaged at least twice by fires but survived well into the 4th century. The second Augustan library was in the Porticus Octaviae, a magnificent structure built in honor of Octavia, the Emperor’s sister. . . . Caius Melissus was the first librarian for this collection, housed in chambers over a promenade. Although damaged by fire in the reign of Titus about 80 A.D., the Octavian Library probably survived into the 2nd century“ (Harris, History of Libraries in the Western World 4th ed. [1999] 57.)

Clark, The Care of Books (1901) reproduces a plan of the Porticus Octaviae on p. 13. 

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30 CE – 500 CE

Seneca Denounces Book Collectors and Even the Library of Alexandria Circa 49 CE

A marble bust of Seneca preserved in the Antikensammlung Berlin. (View Larger)

About 49 CE Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, dramatist of the Silver Age of Latin literature, Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca, or Seneca the Younger) denounced book collectors, and even denounced the Royal Library of Alexandria:

"Outlay upon studies, best of all outlays, is reasonable so long only as it is kept within certain limits. What is the use of books and libraries innumerable, if scarce in a lifetime the master reads the titles? A student is burdened by a crowd of authors, not instructed; and it is far better to devote yourself to a few, than to lose your way among a multitude.

"Forty thousand books were burnt at Alexandria. I leave others to praise this splendid monument of royal opulence, as for example Livy, who regards it as 'a noble work of royal taste and royal thoughtfulness.' It was not taste, it was not thoughtfulness, it was learned extravagance—nay not even learned, for they had bought their books for the sake of show, not for the sake of learning—just as with many, who are ignorant even of the lowest branches of learning, books are not instruments of study, but ornaments of dining-rooms. Procure then as many books as will suffice for use; but not a single one for show. You will replay: 'Outlay on such objects is preferable to extravagance on plate or paintings.' Excess in all directions is bad. Why should you excuse a man who wishes to possess book-presses inlaid with arbor-vitae wood or ivory; who gathers together masses of authors either unknown or discredited; who yawns among his thousands of books; and who derives his chief delight from their edges and their tickets?

" You will find then in the libraries of the most arrant idlers all that orators or historians have written—book-cases built up as high as the ceiling. Nowadays a library takes rank with a bathroom as a necessary ornament of a house. I could forgive such ideas, if they were due to extravagant desire for learning. As it is, these productions of men whose genius we revere, paid for at a high price, with their portraits ranged in line above them, are got together to adorn and beautify a wall" (translated in Clark, The Care of Books [1901] 22-23). 

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Discoveries of Greek & Roman Papyri in the Library of the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum, the Only Library Preserved Intact from Graeco-Roman Times 79 CE – 2015

In 79 CE the eruption of Mount Vesuvius destroyed the Roman coastal city of Herculaneum together with Pompeii and Stabiae. Among the vast ruins preserved in lava was the library of papyrus rolls in the so-called “Villa of the Papyri” at Herculaneum— a magnificent home thought to have been built by Julius Caesar’s father-in-law, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus. Discovery of this library in 1752, nearly seventeen centuries after the eruption, was the first and only discovery of ancient papyri in Europe.

On October 19, 1752 Neopolitan "cavamonti", who had been digging at Herculaneum since 1738 by order of Charles III of Spain (who through conquest was also Charles VII of Naples), excavated the first papyrus rolls from a large suburban villa. Over the next two years several hundred papyrus rolls were excavated from the site, and the villa from which they were excavated became known as the Villa dei Papiri (Villa of the Papyri) or Villa dei Pisoni, after its original owner. This library was the only library that survived "intact" since Graeco-Roman times.

Discovery of the Herculaneum papyri was a landmark not only in archaeology, and in the recovery of classical texts, but also in book history because until the discovery of papyrus rolls at Herculaneum no one in early modern Europe had seen the actual roll form of books from the ancient world, or even a fragment written on papyrus. When Mabillon described papyri in his De re diplomatica (1681) he had not seen an actual example.

Papyrus rolls did not survive in humid environments, and for this reason information on rolls that might have survived into the early Middle Ages had either been lost through the decay of the rolls, or had been copied onto parchment codices for preservation before the rolls were lost or discarded. By about 1200, when paper was introduced into Europe, the precise nature of ancient papyrus as a writing surface had been for the most part forgotten. Without a medieval Latin word for paper, which was new to Europeans, scholars reapplied the old word papyrus to paper. Papyrus remained the Latin word for paper until the early seventeenth century. This double usage of the word, as Christopher de Hamel pointed out, sometimes led scholars to confuse the comparatively modern material (paper) with the material referred to by ancient Christian writers, who wrote on papyrus. 

The papyrus rolls discovered at Herculaneum had been carbonized by lava, and all were deformed to some extent because of the weight of the lava that had covered them over the centuries. Paradoxically, the carbonization process had preserved the rolls and their content, but made unrolling them and reading them exceptionally difficult. In spite of the state in which the papyrus rolls were found they were examples of the Roman papyrus roll and the form in which the rolls were stored in a Roman library. Besides the libary at the Villa of the Papyri,  frescos also discovered at Herculaneum showed how the Roman books were kept.

The first account of the Herculaneum papyri to reach the scientific world was a brief mention in a letter from the artist, sculptor and art restorer Camillo Paderni, director of the Museum Herculanense, published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London.  The first of these, an extract of a letter to Richard Mead, was written on November 18, 1752, only a month after the discovery, and read to the Royal Society on February 8, 1753. This letter contained a brief extract of what was then the earliest surviving manuscript of Latin poetry, P.Herc 817. In this letter Paderni reported:

"it is not a month ago [specifically October 19, 1752] that there have been found many volumes of papyrus, but turn'd to a sort of charcoal, so brittle, that, being touched, it falls readily into ashes. Nevertheless, by his Majesty's orders, I have made many trials to open them, butt all to no purpose, excepting some words which I have picked out intire, where they are divers bits, by which it appears in what manner the whole was written. The form of the characters, made with very black tincture, that overcomes the darkness of the charcoal. . . ."

Paderni's letter contained portions of two continguous hexameters from P.Herc.817P.Herc. 817, containing the text of Carmen de bello actiaco, sometimes known as the Carmen de Bello Aegyptiaco, was the most substantial Latin papyrus discovered in 1752 in the library of the Villa dei Papiri. Written in Italy between 31 BCE, the date of the battle of Actium, and 79 CE, when Herculaneum was destroyed, this is one of the two earliest manuscripts of Latin poetry, the other being the slightly earlier fragment of the poetry of Gaius Cornellus Gallus discovered in 1978 at Qasr Ibrim, Egypt. The twenty-three papyrus fragments of the poem Carmen de Bello Actiaco preserved in Naples at the Biblioteca Nazionale, and in Paris at the Louvre, represent the earliest surviving dated examples of rustic capitals

"Latin Rustic probably began its career as a rationalized version of official and popular writing, fused with a loosening version of the Square Capitals, the whole written with a pen cut specially for speed. It secured a measure of public approval in Rome during or before the first century B.C., though the evidence is slight" (Stanley Morison, Politics and Script . . . Barker ed. [1972] 43; see also 41-43, and pl. 34.

Two other letters by Paderni were also published in Philosophical Transactions. His second letter, to Thomas Hollis, was dated April 27, 1754 and read to the Royal Society on June 13, 1754, reported that excavators had discovered an entire library:

"In one of these buildings there has been found an entire library, compos'd of volumes of the Egyptian Papyrus, of which there have been taken out about 250; and the place is not yet clear'd or emptied, it having been deem'd necessary to erect props first, to keep the earth, which lies above it, from falling in upon it. These volumes of Papyrus consist of Latin, and Greek manuscripts, but from their brittleness, occasion'd by the fire and time, it is not possible to unroll them, they being now decay'd and rotten. His majesty however has done his part; having sent for a certain monk from Rome [Padre Antonio Piaggio], who belong'd to the Vatican library; in hopes, by his means, to have unfolded them; but hitherto in vain.

'Your servant Paderni alone can shew some fragments of several lines, and more than this he is much afraid will never been seen. Of these there are many in my custody, which I suppose you will have the pleasure of observing in the intended catalogue. There have been found those small tables [i.e. wax tablets] which they are cover'd with what was called the palimpseston, then wrote on them with the stylus; but all these are become a kind of cinder, and have likewise suffer'd by the damps; from both which circumstances they are now so tender, that they break with the touch."

Paderni's third letter, also to Hollis, was dated October 18, 1754 and read to the Royal Society on December 12, 1754. In this letter he explained what he meant by a library, as up to this time no one in Europe had a clear idea of what the interior of an ancient Roman library would look like:

"As yet we have only entered into one room, the floor of which is formed of mosaic work, not unelegant. It appears to have been a library, adorned with presses, inlaid with different sorts of wood, disposed in rows; at the top of which were cornices, as in our own times. I was buried in this spot for more than twelve days, to carry off the volumes found there; many of which were so perished, that it was impossible to remove them. Those, which I took away, amounted to the number of three hundred thirty-seven, all of them at present incapable of being opened. These are all written in Greek characters. While I was busy in this work, I observed a large bundle, which, from the size, I imagined must contain more than a single volume. I tried with the utmost care to get it out, but could not, from the damp and weight of it. However I perceived, that it consisted, of about eighteen volumes, each of which was in length a palm and three Neapolitan inches; being the longest hitherto discovered. They were wrapped about with the bark of a tree, and covered at each end with a piece of wood. All these were written in Latin, as appears by a few words, which broke off from them. I was in hopes to have got something out of them, but they are in a worse condition than the Greek. From the latter the public will see some intire columns, having myself had the good fortune to extract two, and many other fine fragments. Of all these an account is drawing up, which will be published together with the other Greek characters, now engraving on copper-plates and afterwards make separate work by themselves. . . At present the monk, who was sent for from Rome, to try to open the former manuscripts, has begun to give us some hopes in respect to one of them. Those which I have opened, are philosophical tracts the subjects of which are known to me; but I am not liberty to be more explicit. When they are published they are to be immediately conveyed to you. That first papyri, of which I formerly acquainted you, were in a separate room, adjoining to the beforementioned palace." 

Because of the difficulty in reading the carbonized documents, the first publication of the texts of Herculaneum papyri occurred forty years after their discovery, in 1793 with the issue of the first volume of Herculanensium voluminum quae supersunt in Naples. Because of the fragility of the papyrus burned and preserved in lava, Paderni did not attempt to unroll P.Herc. 817  until 1805, at which time apographs were drawn by Carlo Orazi. The first coherent publication of its text appeared in the second volume of Herculanensium Voluminum (Naples, 1809) without facsimiles or reproductions of the papyrus. Orazi's apographs were taken to Palermo before the French occupation of Naples in 1806, but facsimiles of P.Herc. 817 were not published until nearly 80 years later. Efforts to read the remainder of the papyri proceeded very gradually; this series was completed in 11 volumes in 1855. Two hundred years after their discovery many of the Herculaneum papyri remained illegible to scholars, even after sophisticated imaging techniques were applied.

In 1800 the Prince of Wales (later George IV) decided to support the unrolling and deciphering of the papyri found at Herculaneum in 1752, and sent his chaplain in ordinary John Hayter to Naples, who was an expert on antiquities, to take charge of the "Officina" and direct the work. By this time, perhaps out of appropriate caution, or because of the difficulty involved, only 18 of the approximately 1800 manuscripts found in the Villa dei Papiri had been unrolled. It is thought that Padierni opened only the rolls that he thought were most promising from the textual standpoint.

Discussing the background of the project, in 1800 Hayter issued a few copies of a 22-page pamphlet entitled the Herculanean and Pompeian Manuscripts. This was written in the form of a letter to the Prince of Wales. By this time the papyri had been moved to Palermo. Hayter began operations in 1802 at Portici, near Naples. He had charge of the papyri from 1802 to 1806. In four years about two hundred rolls were opened, and nearly one hundred copied in lead-pencil facsimiles under Hayter's superintendence.

In 1802 Ferdinand IV, King of Naples and the Two Sicilies, in a diplomatic move, offered six rolls of Herculaneum papyrus as a gift to First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte. Eager to discover the contents of these artefacts — some of the most impressive examples — Bonaparte handed them over to the Institut de France in Paris. There the mathematician and keen archaeologist Gaspard Monge, and Vivant Denon, the "founder" of the Louvre, were put in charge of unrolling the rolls. When the French invaded southern Italy in 1806, Hayter followed King Ferdnand into exile in Palermo, Sicily, and the original papyri fell into the hands of the French. The lead-pencil facsimiles also passed out of Hayter's hands, but were recovered from the Neapolitan authorities through the influence of William Drummond of Logiealmond, the British minister. Between 1807 and 1808 copperplates were incised at Palermo under Hayter's direction, and shipped to England where, instead of being published as Hayter had planned, they were archived at Oxford's Bodleian Library. Meanwhile, during the last illness of George III, the Prince of Wales became the Prince Regent, and would ascend to the throne in 1820 at the death of his father. In 1811 Hayter issued a rather grand volume on the project, printed in unusually large type, and illustrated with fine color mezzotint plates, entitled, A Report upon the Herculaneum Manuscripts, in a Second Letter, Addressed, by Permission to his Royal Highness the Prince Regent. The volume discusses Hayter's experience with the papyri in detail, and includes some beautiful color images of the papyrus plant, but no reproductions of papyri. It also reprints the text of Hayter's first (1800) letter to the Prince. My copy is bound in the original pink boards with its title printed in large boldface letters on the upper cover. Hayter's series of reproductions of P.Herc 817 and other papyri were mostly not published until 1885, in an appendix to Fragmenta Herculanensia: A Descriptive Catalogue of the Oxford Copies of the Herculanean Rolls by Walter Scott. The first photographs of any of the fragments were published by Lowe, Codices Latini Antiquiores III (1938) 385.

In 1816 some of the Herculaneum papyrus fragments which had been brought to Paris and London were entrusted to the German polymath and archaeologist Friedrich Carl Sickler who attempted to unroll them, but in the process destroyed several. As a record of this experience Sickler published a pamphlet entitled Herculaneum Rolls. Correspondence Relative to a Proposition Made by Dr. Sickler of Hildberghausen Relative to Their Development (London, 1817).

Following this the chemist Sir Humphrey Davy travelled to the museum at Naples, reported on the state of the papyri found there, and attempted to unroll some of them in Naples, and to use chlorine to unroll some of those in London. Even though he employed scientific care some destruction occurred. Davy published his results as "Some Observations and Experiments on the Papyri Found at Herculaneum," Philosophical Transactions, III (1821) 191-208, plates XI-XVIII, include some of Hayter's reproductions published for the first time. These were probably the earliest reproductions of papyrus fragments published in England. When historian of libraries Edward Edwards published his Memoirs of Libraries I (1859) he was able to get permission from the Royal Society to reproduce Davy's plates from the original copperplates which were still preserved. These he reproduced in his account of Davy's work facing facing p. 72.


In 1999 researchers at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, began to apply multispectral imaging, a technique originally designed for the study of extraterrestrial planetary surfaces, to the study of ancient documents that were difficult to read. One of the successes of this project was the revelation of the texts of the documents from Herculaneum.

♦ On December 19, 2013 BBC News published an article by Robin Banerji entitled Unlocking the scrolls of HerculaneumThis contained the best illustrated summary that I had seen to date of the history of the problems in unrolling and deciphering the Herculaneum papyri. (Thanks to my friend William P. Watson for directing my attention to this, and the following paper.)

♦ On January 20, 2015 in an article entitled X-ray technique 'reads' burnt Vesuvius scroll Jonathan Webb reported on bbc.com that a 3D X-ray imagining technique sometimes used in breast scans had been successful in reading some of the Herculaneum papyri without unrolling them. Webb's article summarized a paper by Vito Mocella and colleagues: "Revealing letters in rolled Herculaeum papyri by X-ray phase-contrast imaging," Nature Comunications, January 20, 2015. In the United States The New York Times published an equally interesting article by Nicholas Wade, with different illustrations entitled "Unlocking Scrolls Preserved in Eruption of Vesuvius, Using X-Ray Beams." On January 21, 2015 further information and a photograph of the researchers was available from artdaily.org at this link.


The most useful modern study of the library is David Sider's The Library of the Villa dei Papiri at Herculaneum (2005).

The classic study of the excavation of Herculaneum through 1908, which impressed upon its readers the necessity for further excavation, was Waldstein & Shoobridge, Herculaneum Past Present and Future (1908). This includes a very useful historical bibliography. In 2011 Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, Director of the Herculaneum Conservation Project, issued the most beautiful large-format full color book entitled Herculaneum, Past and Future. The volume included hundreds of color photographs, numerous full color maps and charts, and several double-foldout 360 degree views. Reading this book truly gives one the feeling of being in the ancient place.

 (This entry was last revised on 01-21-2015.)

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Storing Papyrus Rolls in "Pigeon-Holes" Circa 80 CE

Figure eleven of Clark's 'On the Care of Books,' depicting 'pigeon holes,' the Roman equivalent of book shelves. (View Larger)

". . . three of the words applied to contrivances used [by the Romans] to keep books in, namely, nidus, forulus, and loculamentum, may be rendered by the English 'pigeon-hole'; and that pegma and pluteus mean contrivances of wood which may be rendered by the English 'shelving.' It is quite clear that pegmata could be run up with great rapidity, from a very graphic account in Cicero's letters of the rearrangement of his library. He begins by writing to his friend Atticus as follows:

" 'I wish you would send me any two fellows out of your library, for Tyrannio to make use of as pasters, and assistants in other matters. Remind them to bring some vellum with them to make those titles (indices) which you Greeks, I believe call silluboi. You are not to do this it is inconvenient to you. . . .'

"In the next letter he says:

" 'Your men have made my library gay with their carpentry-work, and their titles (constructione et sullybis). I wish you would commend them.'

"When all is complete he writes:

" 'Now that Tyrannio has arranged my books, a new spirit has been infused into my house. In this matter the help of your men Dionysius and Menophilus has been invaluable. Nothing could look neater than those shelves of yours (illa tua pegmata), since they smartened up my books with their titles.'

"No other words than those I have been discussing are, so far as I know, applied by the best writers to the storage of books; and, and after a careful study of the passages in which they occur, I conclude that, so long as rolls only had to be accomdated, private libraries in Rome were fitted with rows of shelves standing against the walls (plutei), or fixed to them (pegmata). The space between these horizontal shelves was subdivided by vertical divisions into pigeon-holes (nidi, foruli, loculamenta), and it may be conjectured that the width of these pigeon-holes would vary in accordance with the number of rolls included in a single work. That such receptacles were the common furniture of a library is proved, I think, by such evidence as the epigram of Martial quoted above, in which he tells his friend that he will accept his poems, he may 'put them even in the lowest pigeon-hole (nido vel imo),' as we would say, 'on the bottom shelf'; and by the language of Seneca when he sneers at the 'pigeon-holes (loculamenta) carried up to the ceiling.'

"The height of the woodwork varied, of course, with individual taste. In the library on the Esquiline the height was only three feet six inches; at Herculaneum about six feet. 

"I can find no hint of any doors, or curtains, in front of the pigeon-holes. That the ends of the rolls (frontes) were visible, is, I think, quite clear from what Cicero says of his own library after the construction of the shelves (pegmata); and the various devices for making rolls attractive seem to me to prove that they were intended to be seen.

"A representation of rolls arranged on the system which I have attempted to describe occurs on a piece of sculpture (fig. 11) found at Neumagen, near Trèves [Neumagen-Dhron] in the seventeenth century, among the ruins of a fortified camp attributed to Constantine the Great. Two divisions, full of rolls, are shewn, into one of which a man, presumably the librarian, is replacing one. The ends of the rolls are furnished with tickets" (Clark, The Care of Books [1901] 35-37.)

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Probably the Greatest, and Certainly the Longest Lasting of the Roman Libraries 114 CE



After the Libraries of Alexandria and Pergamum (Pergamon), the Bibliotheca Ulpia, or the Ulpian Library, was the most famous library of antiquity and, of all the Roman libraries, the only one to survive at least until the fall of Rome in the mid-fifth century. It was founded by the Emperor Trajan in his Forum in 114 CE.

"This collection may have been based on the 30,000-volume private library of Epaphrodites [Epaphroditus] of Cheronea, and like other Roman libraries, it was divided into Greek and Latin sections. Early in the 4th century, this library was moved to the Baths of Diocletian. . . .This move was apparently only temporary, possibly while the Forum was being repaired, since the library is reported to have been returned at a later date. Trajan’s library was still in existence in 455 A.D. when a bust of Didonius Apollinarius was placed there by the Emperor Avitus” (Harris, History of Libraries in the Western World 4th ed. [1999] 58.)

♦ In December 2013 a computer reconstruction of the interior of the Ulpian Library was available at this link.

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The Library of Celsus at Ephesus Circa 115 CE – 125 CE

The library of Celsus was completed circa 115-125 CE in Ephesus, Anatolia in memory of Roman Senator Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus. A Greek Roman citizen who became a Roman consul in 92 and governor of Asia from 105-107, Celsus bequeathed a large sum of money for construction of the library, and for its stock of books. The facility, which incorporated Greek and Roman architectural elements, was designed both as a crypt containing Celsus's sarcophagus and as sepulchral monument. It was also designed to hold 12,000 book rolls in an expansive reading room.

The interior of the library and all its books were destroyed in 262 when a devastating earthquake struck the city. Thus we have no record of the contents of the library, as is the case for all libraries of the period. The front fascade of the library was restored during the 1960s and 1970s, and now serves as a model of Roman public architecture.

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Otlet and and La Fontaine Develop the Universal Decimal Classification Circa 190 CE – 1905

From around 1890 bibliographers Paul Otlet and Henri La Fontaine of Brussels, and various subject specialists, developed the Universal Decimal Classification (UDC), a bibliographic and library classification system, which provides provides a systematic arrangement of all branches of human knowledge organized as a coherent system in which knowledge fields are related and inter-linked. The first version of the UDC, Manuel du répertoire bibliographique universel: Organisation—État des travaux—Règles—Classifications; [011.1 (021)] was published in fascicules from 1899 to 1905 and consisted of 9 vols. In 2016 vols. 1-4 were available from the Hathi Trust at this link.

"In its first edition in 1905, the UDC already included many features that were revolutionary in the context of knowledge classifications: tables of generally applicable (aspect-free) concepts—called common auxiliary tables; a series of special auxiliary tables with specific but re-usable attributes in a particular field of knowledge; an expressive notational system with connecting symbols and syntax rules to enable coordination of subjects and the creation of a documentation language proper. Albeit originally designed as an indexing and retrieval system, due to its logical structure and scalability, UDC has become one of the most widely used knowledge organization systems in libraries, where it is used for either shelf arrangement, content indexing or both. UDC codes can describe any type of document or object to any desired level of detail. These can include textual documents and other media such as films, video and sound recordings, illustrations, maps as well as realia such as museum objects.

"Since the first edition in French "Manuel du Répertoire bibliographique universel" (1905), UDC has been translated and published in various editions in 40 languages. UDC Summary, an abridged Web version of the scheme is available in over 50 languages.The classification has been modified and extended over the years to cope with increasing output in all areas of human knowledge, and is still under continuous review to take account of new developments" (Wikipedia article on Universial Decimal Classification, accessed 08-21-2016).

For further information about the UDC see the UDC Consortium website.

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Grief at the Loss of a Personal Library: Rediscovery of a Long Lost Treatise by Galen on Books and Libraries 192 CE

In 2005 a long lost treatise by the Greek physician, surgeon and philosopher in the Roman Empire Claudius Galenus (Galen of Pergamon) entitled Περι αλυπιας (On Consolation from Grief) was discovered by scholar Antoine Pietrobelli in the Monastery of the Vlatades (Moni Vlatadon) in Thessaloniki, central Macedonia, Greece. The manuscript, identified as Vlatadon 14, dates from the fifteenth century. In what is known as the first auto-bibliography, Peri ton idion biblion (De Libris propriis liber, On his Own Writings), Galen referred to Περι αλυπιας, but the last evidence of the text was preserved by the 13th century physician and writer Joseph ben Judah ibn Aknin, who paraphrased and/or translated extacts of it into Hebrew. Rediscovery of the complete text is considered one of the most spectacular finds ever in ancient literature.

Galen was motivated to write Περι αλυπιας in 192 CE after a large portion of his library, his supply of medicines and medical instruments, and wax molds for the casting of new instruments that he had invented, and other valuable items were destroyed when a devastating fire burned the Temple of Peace (Forum of Vespasian) and nearby storehouses on the Via Sacra, the main street of ancient Rome, where his property was kept. Galen chose to keep his library there because the storehouse also held some of the imperial archives, and was kept under military guard. The fire that destroyed Galen's library also burned all the public libraries on the Palatine Hill.

Galen's Περι αλυπιας provides significant information on the use of the codex form of the book in the second century CE, on the general vulnerability of books and texts, and on the production, copying, dissemination and storage of information, including the operation of Rome's imperial public libraries and Galen's use of them. It also provides information on the "consolation genre" of writings in antiquity, 

Galen's newly discovered text was first translated into English by Clare K. Rothschild and Trevor W. Thompson as "Galen: 'On the Avoidance of Grief,' " Early Christianity 2 (2011) 110-129, from which I quote selections interspersed with my comments:

In the fire Galen lost rare texts, including copies of what might have been autograph manuscripts of ancient grammarians, orators, doctors and philosophers, that were available nowhere else:

" 13 It is, therefore, neither possible to find any of the rare books and the ones ‘nowhere else kept’, nor (possible to find) the common ones sought out for the accuracy of the text . . . which include two Homeric works, the Plato of Panaetius, and many other such works, since those writings – which, in the case of each book, the men after whom the books were named either wrote them or had them copied – were preserved inside (the libraries). And, in fact, copies of books from many ancient grammarians were kept (there), also those of rhetoricians, physicians and philosophers."

He also lost texts which he had personally corrected for new editions:

"14 In addition to these (books) so important and so numerous, I then lost on the same day all the books that, after correction, had been written by me onto a pure text, books with unclear and errant readings throughout the texts – planning to produce my own edition. The writings were worked to (the point of) accuracy so that neither was something added nor words taken away, not even a paragraphos – single or double, or a coronis – (a siglum) appropriately placed between books. What is there to say about the period or comma? As you know, they are very valuable in unclear books, so that one who pays attention to them does not need an interpreter."

He lost books that had been miscatalogued in public libraries, including a work by botanist and successor to Aristotle at the Peripatetic school, Theophrastus:

"16 Further, these things will especially distress [λμπειν] you; I found outside (the libraries on the Palatine) books recorded in the so-called catalogs – some in the libraries on the Palatine and some, on the contrary, which clearly do not belong to the author to whom they are ascribed [i.e., in the catalogs] – neither with respect to style nor thought similar to him [i.e., the author]. I also found [books] of Theophrastus, in particular those on scientific matters 

17– there are also his books on plants expounded in two extended treatises – everyone has them. And, there was the tractate in precise agreement with Aristotle, that I discovered and copied, which is now lost. In the same way, both (the books) of Theophrastus and of some other men of old were not reported in the catalogues, some although recorded in them, are no longer extant. I found, then, many of these in the libraries on the Palatine, but some, on the contrary, I prepared."

On this section Matthew Nicholls, "Galen and Libraries in the Peri Alupias," Journal of Roman Studies 101 (2011) 123-42 makes several particularly meaningful points on pp. 135-36, which I quote. (The links are my additions):

"The document to which Galen refers here was probably not a specific catalogue of the Palatine library itself, still less a shelf list in the modern sense: the usual Galenic sense of the adjective καλουμενος is either to flag an unusual technical term, which πιναςι is not, or to refer to a particularly well-known example. It is possible that the Palatine's catalogue was well-known enough to qualify for such a description, but Galen seems to expect his correspondent of the PA, an anonymous friend from his schooldays who was probably still resident in Pergamum, to be familiar with it, so a general reference work with a life outside the Palatine library building seems more likely— Catalogue with a capital C. The Budé commentary identifies it as the Alexandrian catalogue, but another good candidate that fits both descriptions—a work of especial relevance to the books Galen saw in the Palatine library and a book-list well-known enough to have an independent value—is the Catalogue descended from the lists of Aristotle's library drawn up in late Republican Rome by Tyrannio and then Andronicus of Rhodes, which would fit the subject matter of the books discussed above and is confirmed as current in the second century A.D. by Plutarch.

"Even if Galen is not talking of a catalogue with a particular relevance to the Palatine library, his testimony is important, the first clear reference to a Roman library user actually consulting a catalogue in the conduct of his research. Such a catalogue, tracing its roots back to Callimachus' homonymous Alexandrian Pinakes, was supposed to give a comprehensive list of works by a given author or in a given field; for its use in a library context we can compare Quintilian's conclusion to a long list of Greek poets with an airy reference to a similar-sounding type of document. . . .

"Galen seems to have been able to consult this Catalogue within the Palatine library, comparing its contents to the shelf-holdings. The copy he used for that purpose have been his own or the library's (in which case one might have expected it to be rather more accurate). His working assumption seems to have been that the books on the shelves of the Palatine library would reflect the lists in the catalogue, so that both would ideally be complete testaments of the outputs of the authors they house. It is the exceptions to this assumption that exercise Galen; in his excitement at finding a 'lost' work by an important author—one on the shelf but not in the Catalogue—or at proving the Catalogue's identification wrong by his analysis of a unique book, Galen is consciously presenting himself as the heir to the to Alexandrian (and Pergamene) library scholars of the Hellenistic age. . . ."

Galen went to great trouble to copy of some these texts because the papyrus rolls were deteriorating as a result of the humid climate. It has long been known that papyrus may be preserved for centuries in dry climates such as the Egyptian desert, but deteriorates rapidly with humidity:

"19 These (books), then, did not cause me a small pain when copying them. As it is, the papyri are completely useless, not even able to be un-rolled because they have been glued together by decomposition, since the region is both marshy and low-lying, and, during the summer, it is stifling."

The timing of the fire was exceptionally unfortunate because Galen had had all of his works duplicated as was planning to move copies of everything to his home in Campania in a short time:

"21 For all (of my works) intended for publication were already transcribed in duplicate, not counting those that were to remain in Rome. On the one hand, my friends at home [i.e., Pergamum] were requesting that all of the works composed by me be sent to them in order that they may place (them) in a public library – just as, in fact, some other (friends) already placed many of my works in other cities – and, on the other hand, I was planning to have copies of everything in Campania.

"22 For this reason,then, there were duplicates of all of my (works), excluding those that were to remain in Rome, as I said.

"23a So, the fire broke out at the end of winter. I planned, at the beginning of summer, to transport to Campania both those (works) that were meant to remain there [i.e. , at Campania] and those that were to be sent to Asia when the Etesian winds blow." 

Besides his own works which he lost, Galen lost invaluable medical recipes that no one else had, recorded in parchment codices. After the poet Martial's reference (84-86 CE) to the codex form of the book, this is the earliest reference to the codex book that I have seen:

"31 What then, you will say, is even greater than all the things mentioned that might be able to cause distress? Well, I will tell you this: I was entrusted with the possession of the most remarkable medical recipes, such as no one else in the entire Roman world (possessed) – fortune, in part, contributing to this and I myself, in part, contributing equally.

"32 In fact, two-fold fortune granted me each (of the recipe collections) along the way. The first of which is as follows: A certain rich man of those around me hastened to find knowledge concerning effective medications, with the result that he purchased some recipes in the amount of more than one hundred gold coins. He set about this task in such a way as to purchase not only all the recipes that were held in esteem by (physicians) today in Asia, but also by those (physicians) of the past.

 "33 These medical recipes were preserved with the utmost care, in two parchment codices that a certain one of the heirs – himself most dear to me – gave to me of his own accord without being asked." 

Pertinent to Περι αλυπιας, a chapter entitled "Galen's Library" by Vivian Nutton published in Gill, Whitmarsh and Wilkins (eds.) Galen and the World of Knowledge (2009) is of considerable interest. From it I quote a brief section that appeared on pp. 20-21:

"It is clear that Galen's library must have been enormous. It is not just that he wrote so many titles; many of his treatises were in several books, each occupying a single book roll, so that one must imagine at least six or seven hundred rolls containing his own writings alone. In addition shorthand writers took down his words and copied out whatever other treatises he wanted for his own purposes. It is very likely that his was among the largest ancient collections of medical books, along with that of that voracious reader, the Elder Pliny, but any attempt to place Galen and others, along a spectrum of medical bibliophiles is doomed to failure. Both Celsus, the author of On Medicine, and Rufus of Ephesus were men of considerable learning, but establishing their sources is far from easy, and next to impossible for other doctors. Papyrological and archaeological evidence for medical libraries is ambiguous at best. . . . Galen's own comments about the books available to his less fortunate colleagues imply that they owned a mere handful of books. He recommends epitomes of his own more voluminous writings as more suitable for those who had neither the time nor the inclination to involve themselves with long and complicated expositions. His demands in On Examinations for a basic knowledge of a canon of distinguished authorities from the past presume that any competent physician would have a substantial library, but it is also clear from surviving tracts that much of this 'essential learning' could be gained from handbooks and summaries of one kind or another. But undoubtedly there were other healers with substantial resources, even if, as Galen complains, they did not spend as much as he did on books. . . ."

(This entry was last revised on 09-17-2016.)

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Origen's Hexapla: Made Possible by the Codex Form, and the First Codices to Display Information in Tabular Form Circa 234 CE – 253 CE

After his arrival in Caesaria, Palestine, from Alexandria, in 234 Christian scholar and theologian Origen (Ὠριγένης Ōrigénēs or Origen Adamantius) undertook compilation of the Hexapla, an elaborate tool for textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible containing the Old Testament written in six parallel columns laid out across each page opening, in a series of large, thick codices. The project is thought to have taken roughly 20 years to complete, by Origen with a team of assistants and scribes, some of whom may have been slaves. To undertake his scholarly work Origen collected a very significant library, though we have little understanding of its precise contents. 

Origen was the first Christian biblical scholar, and the first Christian scholar to undertake the study of Hebrew. His Hexapla was not only a massive scholarly achievement in the early days of Christianity, but also a landmark in book history, since the Hexapla was undoubtedly the largest scholarly endeavor in the early history of Christianity—a work so large in terms of sheer information quantity that it could only have been written in a series of large codices, the format of the book that was gradually replacing the papyrus roll between 100 and 400 CE. In papyrus roll form the Hexapla would have occupied hundreds of rolls, and would have been virtually impossible to use, a consideration which would have assured that the codex format was employed. The volumes of the Hexapla were also presumably the first codices to display information in tabular form– a form that Origen appears to have invented.

It is estimated that the original Hexapla consisted of about 6000 folio pages in perhaps 40 codices, and that because of the immense cost of its production- perhaps 150,000 denarii based on Diocletian's price edict- it probably existed in only a single complete copy. This copy may have been preserved in the library of the bishops of Caesarea for several centuries, but was lost in the Muslim invasion of in 638, if not earlier. The three column page format of the large codices of the Hexapla is thought to have been influential on the four column format of the other large codex produced about a century later, which did survive— the Codex Sinaiticus. It is, of course, also likely that the Hexapla was used in editing the Bible text recorded in the Codex Sinaiticus. Origen's table format was also influential on the development of Eusebius's table format in his Chronicon.

Because so little physical evidence survived from the transitional period from the papyrus roll to the codex during first four centuries CE, details that we have of Origen's Hexapla and its relationship to Eusebius's Chronicon and to the Codex Sinaiticus are significant markers for this critical early period in book history. Only a few small fragments of codices have survived from the third century, and nothing from that date confirms the tabular form of the Hexapla, or even that it was written in codex form. For confirmation of the layout of the codex page openings of the Hexapla we depend upon later evidence: two early manuscript fragments that survived. The first is a palimpsest from the Cairo Genizah in which the 8th century Greek text of a portion of the Psalms in the columnar form of the Hexapla was overwritten in Hebrew. This leaf, preserved at Cambridge, was first reproduced by Charles Taylor in Hebrew-Greek Cairo Genizah Palimpsests from the Taylor-Schechter Collection, Including a Fragment of the Twenty-Second Psalm According to Origen's Hexapla. (1900),plates 1 and 2. (I discovered this publication detail when I acquired a copy of Taylor's book in 2016.) More recently the leaf was reproduced on p. 97 of Grafton & Williams, Christianity and the Transformation of the Book. Origen, Eusebius, and the Library of Caesarea (2006) On p. 99 of the same work the authors reproduce a diagram showing the layout of the partial Hexapla leaf showing its actual linear and columnar arrangement in white and a hypothetical reconstruction of the original folio page opening in six columns in gray. The other fragment, coincidentally also of the Psalms, preserved in the Bibliotheca Ambrosiana in Milan, was written in Greek minuscule circa 900, and palimpsested with a 13th or 14th century Greek text.

For further support of the written format of the Hexapla we depend upon the account of Jerome:

"Our best ancient evidence for the form and content of the Hexapla comes from Jerome, writing in Palestine at the end of the fourth century. Jerome knew the work well. Not only did he possess Hexaplatic volumes of his own, which he used extensively in his translations and commentaries, but he also consulted the original at Caesarea. In a brief aside in commentary on the pseudo-Pauline letter to Titus, he gives a detailed account of the work. Jerome says that in the original Hexapla preserved at Caesarea:

"the very Hebrew words, too, are copied in their own letters, and expressed in Greek letters in the neighboring column. Aquila also, and Symmachus, the Septuagint, and Theodion hold their places. But for not a few books, and especially those which among the Hebrews are composed in verse, three other editions have been added, which are called the fifth, sixth, and seventh translations; they are considered authoritative though the names of the translators are lost." 

"Jerome thus confirms the presence of a Hebrew column in Hebrew letters as well as a column in Greek transliteration, which gives an unambiguous description of the order of the columns" (Grafton & Williams, op. cit. 91).

Study of surviving fragments of Origen's Hexapla continued over the centuries. The first edition considered comprehensive was Bernard de Montfaucon's Hexaplorum Origenis quae supersunt (2 vols., 1713). This was superceded by the edition of Frederick Field (1875). 

(This entry was last revised on 02-24-2016.)

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The Library of Lactantius, an Early Christian Author Circa 240 CE – 320 CE

Remarkably little is known about the libraries of individuals in classical, Hellenistic, or even medieval times. In his small book, The Library of Lactantius (Oxford, 1978) R. M. Ogilvie studied the books that the Latin Christian apologist Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius (Lactantius) read and knew well. Born in North Africa, possibly at Cirta in Numidia (modern Algeria), Lactantius, a professional rhetor, or teacher of rhetoric, was summoned to the Imperial Court at Nicomedia by the Roman emperor Diocletian. After converting to Christianity Lactantius resigned his post before the publication of Diocletian's first Edict Against the Christians (February 24, 303), and lived in poverty as a writer until he became advisor to the first Christian Roman emperor Contantine I, guiding Constantine's religious policy as it developed, and serving as tutor of Constantine's son Flavius Julius Crispus. It is believed that Lactantius may have followed Crispus to Trier when Crispus was made Caesar (lesser co-emperor) and sent to that city. The circumstances of Lactantius's death are unknown.

Lactantius's primary work, Divinae Institutiones (Divine Institutes), was an early systematic presentation of Christian thought. It was considered somewhat heretical after his death, but Renaissance humanists took a renewed interest in Lactantius, more for his elaborately rhetorical Latin style than for his theology. The early humanists called him Cicero Christianus (Christian Cicero), and his Opera (1465) was the first dated book printed in Italy.

The earliest surviving, and probably the most reliable text of Lactantius's Opera is Bologna, R. Biblioteca Universitaria 701, an uncial manuscript of 283 leaves written in North or Central Italy in a center of learning and fine calligraphy in the second half of the fifth century. Lowe, Codices Latini Antiquiores III (1938) No. 280. This manuscript is dated within little more than a century after Lactantius's death.

From Ogilvie's The Library of Lactantius, I quote Chapter XII, "Conclusion", pp. 109-10. The links are, of course, my additions:

"The library resources of Carthage or Alexandria or Rome were boundless but Lactantius was a traveller and could not rely on finding what he needed at Nicomedia or Trier. Nor, as we have seen, was he a scholar of great range and acumen: indeed his familiarity with Greek literature is slight, which may partly account for his evident unhappiness in Bithynia. The preceding chapters have attempted to discover what works he either used in writing. D. I. [Divinae Institutiones] or knew sufficiently well to be able to quote from memory.

"The resulting list is an interesting one. No Greek classical prose or poetry. His Greek reading is confined to oracular literature—Sibylline Oracles, oracles of Apollo and Hystaspes, some Orphic poems and some hermetic works—most of which may have been known to him through a single compilation on Theosophy. His Latin reading of poetry extends to Lucretius, Horace, Virgil, Ovid's Fasti and Metamorphoses, and Persius, Satires 2 and 6: for the rest he is indebted to one or more florilegia. Of classical prose authors Cicero leads the field, although the absence of so many speeches and other works, such as the De Finibus and the letters, is striking. He knew Livy's first Decade and Sallust's Catiline but not Tacitus nor, probably, Varro. He knew Seneca's philosophical works and an edition of Book I of Valerius Maximus. Aulus Gellius he came across after writing the D. I., but he may have had access to a similar compendium for some of his antiquarian and mythological material, unless it was all to be found in a commentary on the Aratea. An anthology provided him with most of his biblical and apocryphal quotations and, probably, with those apologetic commonplaces which he could not locate in Minucius, Cyprian, Theophilus, or Tertullian's Apologeticum.

"In his reading he offers an interesting comparison with Tertullian a hundred years before him, and Augustine or Jerome seventy years later. Terullian was writing during the great archaizing revival of the later second century, when old books were unearthed and reread, and before the political breakdown of the third century. he still knew Herodotus, Plato, Josephus, Pliny the younger, Tacitus, Juvenal, Ennius Varro, perhaps the elder Cato— to name but a few.

"In the later fourth century, pagans and Christians rediscovered some forgotten classics, especially Juvenal and Tacitus, but in the intervening period much literature had been lost beyond recall. Thus Jerome was familiar not only with the range of works which Lactantius knew but also with Plautus, Lucan and Martial. But in other respects he and Augustine are very similar to Lactantius. Augustine knew little Greek and derived his Platonic philosophy from Cicero (Epist. 118.2.10), whereas Jerome did not become closely acquainted with Greek literature until thirty years after his school days. On the other hand Virgil and Cicero's works, above all the Hortensius, meant much to Augustine (C.D. 1.3; Conf. 3.4.7). The same picture emerges from a study of Ausonius, or of Claudian although his interest and opportunities gave hima slightly wider range.

"Lactantius, therefore, in a real sense marks the beginning of the Middle Ages. Between the time of Tertullian and his own day the great process of survival had already jettisoned many literary treasures of Athens and Rome to oblivion."

As a small bibliophilic aside, I was surprised to acquire R. M. Oglivie's personal corrected copy of his book on Lactantius for only £26. 

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The Persecution, Imprisonment and Torture of Origen 249 CE – 251 CE

"According to Eusebius [Historia ecclesiastica], Origen was a confessor during the Decian persecution. Eduard Schwartz supposes that Origen's library was damaged at this time, although there is no direct evidence of it. Probably Schwartz made his conjecture because it helps to explain why Pamphilus later had to expend great effort to acquire copies of Origen's works for the Caesarean library. Decius required that people of the Roman Empire perform sacrifice and receive certificates (libelli) of compliances with the imperial order. In 249 or 250 Origen was arrested, imprisoned, and tortured, but he evidently survived the persecution. It seems, then that either his case was dismissed or, what is probably more likely, he simply outlived the persecution and was freed in 251. Because Origen's judge had the power to coerce Origen's compliance by imprisonment, torture, and the assessment of fines, even to the extent of confiscation of his personal property, it is possible that his library was damaged, though certainly it was not destroyed, since, for example, the Hexapla survived until at least Jerome's day. Indeed, despite the persecution, as well as whatever other misfortunes may have befallen the library after Origen's death, Pamphilus was probably drawn to settle at Caesarea because of the reputation the city enjoyed as the home of Origen's library.

"Origen died soon after the end of the persecution, between 251 and 253, at Tyre, according to Tradition. Origen's bishop, Theoctistus, survived for almost another decade, through the persecution under Valerian to the restoration of peace by Gallienus in 260. Domnus succeeded him for a short time and was himself then succeeded by Theotecnus, whom Eusebius calls a contemporary. Theotecnus' access is according dated to sometime after 260. Eusebius also relates that Theotecnus had been a member of Origen's school (διατρβπ), presumably at Caesarea. Because of this association with Origen, it is possible that Origen's library now came, if it was not already, under direct episcopal authority" (Carriker, The Library of Eusebius of Caesarea [2003] 11-12. Note that I left out numerous textual citations by Carriker and his many footnotes. The links are, of course, my additions.)

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The Crosby-Schoyen Codex: One of the Earliest Extant Papyrus Codices, Probably from the Earliest Monastery Library Circa 250 CE

The Crosby-Schøyen Codex, a papyrus codex in Sahidic (a dialect of Coptic) from Alexandria, Egypt, consists of 52 leaves, of which 16 are missing, 15x15 cm, written in 2 columns, (10 x12 cm), 11-18 lines in a bold large Coptic uncial, with 3 decorated cartouches. Its fifth and final text is written in a single column, 12 lines. Dating from about 250, it is one of the earliest extant codices, showing the adoption of the codex form of the book by early Christians. In 2013 it was the earliest codex in private hands.

The five texts in the Crosby-Schøyen Codex are:

  1. Bible: Jonah
  2. Bible: 2 Maccabees 5:27 - 7:41
  3. Bible: 1 Peter
  4. Melito of Sardis: Peri Pascha 47 - 105
  5. Homily, An Unidentified Sermon for Easter Morning

The codex represents the earliest known complete text of the two books of the Bible, Jonah and 1 Peter. Of 1 Peter there is also a Greek papyrus slightly later, circa 300, from the same hoard, now in the Vatican Library. The Schøyen 1 Peter is copied from a Greek exemplar written before 2 Peter existed, that is circa 60-130 CE. It is the single most important manuscript of 1 Peter. Texts 2 and 4 are also the earliest witnesses. Text 5 is unique, and probably the oldest extant Christian liturgical manuscript. 

The codex derives from the hoard known as the "Bodmer Papyri", consisting of 9 Greek papyrus rolls, 22 papyrus codices and circa 7 vellum codices in Greek and Coptic. These manuscripts are now mainly located in the Bibliotheca Bodmeriana, Genève, and the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin. They are part of what is known as the Dishna papers, which may have belonged to the library of one of the earliest monasteries associated with the first monastic order, the Pachomian order, Faw Qibli, Egypt. In his book, The Story of the Bodmer Papyri. From the First Monastery's Library in Upper Egypt to Geneva and Dublin (2011) James M. Robinson traced the unusually complex provenance of the Bodmer Papyri, documented the history of their publication in the 20th century, and made the case that these papyri were originally part of the library of the first Christian monastery. Robinson's view is not universally shared. The rolls and codices from the library were buried in a large sealed jar probably during the Arabic conquest of Egypt in the seventh century, and were not found until 1952.

The provenance of the Crosby-Schoyen Codex is among the most complicated of all the so-called Bodmer Papyri:

 "1. Copied from exemplars in Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Alexandria (3rd c.); 2. Monastery of the Pachomian Order, Dishna, Egypt (4th-7th c.); 3. Buried in a jar in the sand (7th c.-1952); 4. Hasan Muhammad al-Samman, Abu Mana (1952); 5. Riyad Jirjis Fam, Dishna (1952); 6. Phocion J. Tano, Cairo (1952-); 7. Sultan Maguid Sameda, Cairo (until 1955); 8. University of Mississippi, Oxford, Mississippi (1955-1981); 9. H.P. Kraus, New York (1981-83); 10. Vinsor T. Savery, Houston, Texas (Pax ex Innovatione Foundation, Vaduz, Liechtenstein) (1983-1988); 11. Sotheby's 6.12.1988:29. 41 fragments from the beginning of the codex, that came apart in 1952: 1.-6. As above; 7. Dr. Martin Bodmer, Genève (1952-1967); 8. Prof. William H. Willis, Durham, North Carolina (from 1967); 9. Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, "P. Duk. inv. C125" (until 1990), acquired by exchange in April 1990, and rejoined to the main codex June 1990" (http://www.schoyencollection.com/Coptic.htm, accessed 11-25-2010). 

(This entry was last revised on 04-21-2014.)

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Pamphilus Establishes a Library and Scriptorium and is Executed During the Diocletianic Persecution of Christians 275 CE – 309 CE

A map of Israel, with Caesarea Maritima highlightd in blue. (View Larger)

Between 275 and his martyrdom in 309 Pamphilus of Caesarea (Pamphilius), presbyter, and teacher of Eusebius, devoted his life to searching out and obtaining copies of manuscript texts, some of which he copied himself. He established a library that may have contained 30,000 manuscripts, and a scriptorium at a Christian theological school at Caesarea Palaestina, now Caesarea Maritima, a town on the coast of Israel between Tel Aviv and Haifa. Because of this library Caesarea was the capital of Christian scholarship in the 3rd century.

"This Pamphilus was of a noble family in the Phoenician city of Berytus [Beirut], where he received his early education. Probably in the early and mid-280's, he studied in Alexandria under the presbyter Pierius, who was himself known as 'the Younger Origen.' From there Pamphilius seems to have come to Caesarea, where his great learning in philosophy and theology enabled him to open a successful school at Caesarea. Pamphilus' school could boast no unbroken descent from Origen's school, because there was no continuous sucession of masters at Caesarea between Origen and Pamphilus. . . ." (Carriker, The Library of Eusebius of Caesarea [2003] 12-13).

During the Diocletianic persecution, the last and most bloody persecution of Christians before Constantine established Christianity as the Roman state religion, Pamphilus was arrested and imprisoned in November 307. He was executed and martyred on February 16, 309. 

"By the end of 307 Pamphilius was arrested under the orders of Urbanus, the local Roman governor, tortured cruelly, and placed in prison. Yet, in prison and suffering from his torture wounds, Pamphilius did not remain idle but continued editing the Septuagint and with Eusebius, wrote a Defense of Origen that he sent to the confessors in the mines of Phaeno, Egypt [i.e. South Palestine, "in a mining area lying east of the Wadi Arabah, between the south end of the Dead Sea and Petra."]

"After being in prison for two years, Pamphilius was ordered killed by the new governor, Firminius. He was then beheaded on February 16, 309 with several of his disciples. In his memory Eusebius called himself Eusebius Pamphili, to denote his close friendship with Pamphilius" (Orthodox Wiki article on Pamphilius, accessed 02-02-2013).

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Reconstruction of the Contents of the Library of Eusebius Circa 280 CE – 339 CE

So few codices and papyrus rolls have survived from the third and fourth centuries—the period of transition from the roll to the codex— that we know remarkably little about the specific contents of any public and private libraries from the time. One exception is the library of the bishop and historian Eusebius of Caesarea (Eusebius Pamphili). No catalogue of his library survived, but since Eusebius referenced so many specific sources in his voluminous writings, it was possible to work backwards from those references to reconstruct at least part of the library that Eusebius used from around 280 to 339. This was done by Andrew James Carriker in The Library of Eusebius of Caesarea (2003).

"Despite Jerome's reference to this library as the bibliotheca Origenis et Pamphili, the two men who endowed it with its greatest bibliographic wealth, the modern investigation of the library at Caesarea must focus on the library in the possession of Eusebius, Pamphilus' pupil, for Eusebius furnishes the most evidence of its contents in his voluminuous extant writings. Four of these works contain the most important evidence and have according been given the most attention: the Chronicon for historical works; the Historia Ecclesiastica (HE) for Jewish and Christian works; the Praeparatio Evangelica (PE) for Jewish and Christian works; and the Vita Constantini (VC) for contemporary documents. The primary work of this book is thus to reconstruct the contents of the library from the quotations and references in these four works. Some of the difficulties of this task, most notably the problem of establishing whether Eusebius used his sources firsthand or through intermediaries, are treated in chapter two." (Carriker, xiii-xiv).

Perhaps because Eusebius's writings remained central to the early history of Christianity, his writings remained in circulation through the Middle Ages up to the present, and have generated many editions and commentaries, beginning soon after Eusebius's death. Working through the primary sources and the main commentaries, Carriker was able to produce on pp. 299-311 of his very extensively footnoted study, a list of 288 or more specific works that Eusebius owned or used in the fields of Philosophy, Poetry, Oratory, History, Jewish Literature, and  Christianity. Carriker believed that the actual number of books in Eusebius's library would have been larger, perhaps 400.

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The Imperial Library at Nicomedia 284 CE – 305 CE


Between 284 and 305 CE the Emperor Diocletian established an Imperial Library at Nicomedia, the eastern capital city of the Roman Empire. However, little information about this has survived.

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Costs of Professional Writing Measured by the Normal Length of a Line in a Verse of Virgil 303 CE

Piece of the edict in Pergamonmuseum Berlin.

Bust of Diocletian, Roman emperor at the end of the third century AD.  In 301, in an effort to control inflation, he implemented the Edict on Maximum Prices.

"At the time of the conversion to Christianity, Rome had twenty-eight libraries within its walls and book production was so well established a line of business that Diocletian, in his price edict [Edict on Maximum Prices (also known as the Edict on Prices or the Edict of Diocletian; in Latin Edictum De Pretiis Rerum Venalium)] set rates for various qualities of script: for one hundred lines in 'scriptura optima', twenty-five denarii; for somewhat lesser script, twenty denarii, and for functional script ('scriptura libelii bel tabularum'), ten denarii. The unit of valuation was the normal length of line in a verse of Virgil [Vergil]. The extent of a work is given in these units at the end of some manuscripts (stichometry), and stichometric lists survive for biblical books and for the writings of Cyprian" (Bischoff, Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and the Middle Ages [1990] 182).

Laufer, Diokletians Preisedikt (1971).

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The Role of Books in the Rule of the Earliest Christian Monasteries 318 CE – 323 CE

Between 318 and 323 St. Pachomius (Pakhom, Pachome and Pakhomius, Παχώμιος), a farmer once press-ganged into the army of Constantine, founded community or cenobitic organization, linking the cells of male or female hermits into monastic settlements in Upper Egypt. Beginning at Tabennisi (Tabenna,Tabennae) in the Thebaid, these monastics lived together, and had their possessions in common, under the leadership of an abbot or abbess, following an established rule, which included directions for the operation of a monastic library:

"that the books of the House are to be kept in a cupboard (fenestra) in the thickness of the wall. Any brother who wanted a book might have one for a week, at the end of which he was bound to return it. No brother might leave a book open when he went to church to meals. In the evening the officer called 'the Second,' that is, the second in command, was to take charge of the books, count them, and lock them up" (Clark, The Care of Books [1902] 54-55).

"He [Pachomius] established his first monastery between 318 and 323. The first to join him was his elder brother John, and soon more than 100 monks lived at his monastery. He came to found nine monasteries in his lifetime, and after 336, Pachomius spent most of his time at his Pabau monastery. From his initial monastery, demand quickly grew and, by the time of his death in 346, one count estimates there were 3000 monasteries dotting Egypt from north to south. Within a generation after his death, this number grew to 7000 and then moved out of Egypt into Palestine and the Judea Desert, Syria, North Africa and eventually Western Europe. Other sources maintain that the number of monks, rather than the number of monasteries, may have reached 7000" (Wikipedia article on Pachomius, accessed 11-28-2010).

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The Codex Vaticanus Circa 325 CE – 350 CE

A page from the Codex Vaticanus. (View Larger)

The Codex Vaticanus, a 4th century uncial manuscript of the Septuagint and the New Testament, is, along with the Codex Sinaiticus, one of the two extant 4th century manuscripts of the Old and New Testament in Greek, the language used by the early Christians. Some experts estimate the date of the Codex Vaticanus as slightly prior to the Codex Sinaiticus. The Codex Vaticanus was written on sheets of parchment in a three-column format in Biblical majuscule in scriptio continua, without word division, punctuation or pagination, by two or three different scribes.  Quires are numbered in the margin. Its page format is considerably smaller than the Codex Sinaiticus, with its pages currently measuring 27 x 27 cm. Its place of origin is uncertain; Rome, southern Italy, Alexandria, and Caesarea have been proposed.

Originally the manuscript must have been composed of 820 parchment leaves, but it appears that 71 leaves have been lost. Currently, the Old Testament consists of 617 sheets and the New Testament of 142 sheets. Pages 1519-1536 containing Hebrews 9:14 through Revelation, were lost and replaced by a 15th century minuscule supplement.

"The manuscript is believed to have been housed in Caesarea in the 6th century, together with the Codex Sinaiticus (the same unique divisions of chapters in the Acts). It came to Italy – probably from Constantinople – after the Council of Florence (1438–1445)" (Wikipedia article on Codex Vaticanus, accessed 12-05-2010).

During the 10th or 11th century the fading ink of the codex was written over, so that the original characters are obscured.

The manuscript has been housed in the Vatican Library for as long as it has been known to scholars; it was included in the Vatican Library's earliest catalogue in 1475.

The Codex Vaticanus was first reproduced in engraved semi-facsimile as Bibliorum sacrorum graecus codex Vaticanus auspice Pio IX. Pontifice Maximo collatis studiis Caroli Vercellone Sodalis Barnabitae et Josephi Cozza Monachi Basiliani editus (Rome, 1868). In December 2013 a digital facsimile of this 1868 edition was available from the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts at this link.

(This entry was last revised on 04-27-2014.)

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The Codex Sinaiticus Circa 330 CE – 360 CE

The Codex Sinaiticus. (View Larger)

The Codex Sinaiticus (formerly known as the Codex Sinaiticus Petropolitanus) was written in Koine Greek in the mid-4th century, by at least three scribes. The codex was written in uncial majuscule in scriptio continua, without word division, punctuation or pagination; it incorporates two ancient methods for numbering its quires, and it also incorporates a version of the system of numbering the paragraphs of the Gospels developed by Eusebius of Caesarea. It was written in a four-column format except for the poetical and wisdom literature in which a two-column format was used. This is the only surviving biblical manuscript employing the four-column page format, and it has been suggested that this is reminiscent of the papyrus roll format rather than the codex. It is thought that the codex was written somewhere in Asia Minor, Palestine (Caesarea?) or Egypt.

The Codex Sinaiticus is unique among ancient manuscripts for the number of corrections that were made to it by ancient correctors.  In his monograph on the codex (reference below, p. 76) D. C. Parker states that there may be as many as 27,000 corrections to the text. The number of corrections and the care in which they were made suggests, according to Parker, the importance that may have been given to this manuscript early in its history.

Originally the Codex Sinaiticus contained the Old Testament, according to the canon of the Greek Septuagint, including the books known in English as the Apocrypha, (but without 2 and 3 Maccabees), along with the New Testament and two other early Christian books—the Shepherd of Hermas and the Epistle of Barnabas. The complete codex originally consisted of at least 97 quires, each containing 8 leaves or 16 pages, incorporating a total of 776 leaves. In its current form the codex comprises just over 400 leaves, each of which measure 380 mm (15 in.) high by 345 mm (13.5 in.) wide. In size and extent this represented a quantum leap from the papyrus codices in which early Christian documents were most typically written. Most papyrus codices are thought to have contained only one of the Gospels, and the most it is thought that could have been incorporated in the largest papyrus codex would have been the Gospels and Acts.

Compared to the smaller papyrus codices, from the standpoint of book history the completion of the Codex Sinaiticus on parchment may represent an achievement comparable to Gutenberg's invention of printing by movable type more than 1000 years later. However, just over half of the original book survived, now dispersed between four institutions: St Catherine's Monastery in Sinai (where the manuscript was discovered), the British Library, Leipzig University Library, and the National Library of Russia in St. Petersburg. At the British Library the largest surviving portion - 347 leaves, or 694 pages - includes the whole of the New Testament. The other institutions hold portions of the Septuagint, which also survived almost complete, plus the Epistle of Barnabas, and portions of The Shepherd of Hermas

After his conversion to Christianity the Emperor Constantine  commissioned fifty Greek Bibles for the churches of his new capitol, Constantinople, and ever sincer the Codex Sinaiticus was discovered it was speculated that the Codex Sinaiticus was among those commissioned. However, there is no evidence to substantiate this speculation. None of the fifty copies has ever been conclusively identified.

In February 2014 a digital facsimile of the Codex and podcasts about the manuscript were available from the British Library at this link.

All surviving portions of the Codex were joined in a virtual electronic edition at Codexsinaiticus.org.

♦ Please use the exact phrase keyword search under Codex Sinaiticus to locate several other entries in this database pertinent to this codex as it appears in book history over the centuries.

For a general guide to the codex see  Parker, Codex Sinaiticus. The Story of the World's Oldest Bible (2010).

♦ It is one thing to write about a book; it is another thing altogether to see it and handle it; I would never even dream of being allowed to handle this priceless volume. However, in February 2014 I acquired through Amazon.com the full color facsimile edition of the Codex Sinaiticus published by the British Library and Henrickson Publishers in 2010. I noticed this facsimile when it was originally advertised, but resisted purchasing. Then, when it appeared that the facsimile was being remaindered, I acquired a new copy for only $300, plus only $3.99 shipping. I emphasize only $3.99 because the facsimile in its double shipping box weighed 15.5 kg or over 35 pounds, and even though it was sent by media mail, the seller obviously had to pay far more to ship it than Amazon would allow them to charge. Like the priceless original codex, the facsimile is a stunningly impressive volume 43 x 35.5 cm, very finely printed on heavy art paper, and very sturdily bound in a strong slipcase. The volume is 8.5 cm thick. The "Reference Guide" included with the volume indicates that the publishers had to reduce the images of the pages very slightly, by approximately 5%, "to bring the pages down to the maximum size which could be bound by machine." Through hefting this volume and paging through it one can get a sense of the magnificent physicality of the achievement that is the Codex Sinaiticus.

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Origins of the Lateran Library, Precursor of the Vatican Library Circa 350 CE – 650

"The first allusion to a papal library comes from Julius I (337-52), who directed the clergy to settle certain legal matters not in the civil courts in the scrinium sanctum in ecclesia. The use of the singular suggests a central library, whether in the Lateran or in the episcopal church. There is evidence that a little later Damasus I (366-84) rebuilt the basilica of the church of Saint Laurence (San Lorenzo in Prasina) to better house a library. A dedicatory hexameter inscription that once stood over the entrance to the basilica is preserved in a codex of the Vatican library. It reads:

archivis fateor volui nova condere tecta addere

preterea dextra laevaque columnas

quae Damasi teneant proprium per saecula nomen.

"This library, however, was probably not the central ecclesiastical library at Rome, for the Lateran Palace had been the official residence of the pope and the center of ecclesiastical administration since the time of Sylvester I (315-335), and it is more likely that the papal library, including the central archives, was located there.

"Excavations carried out at the beginning of the twentieth century in the Capella Sancta Sanctorum, the only surviving part of the ancient Lateran Palace, discovered among the foundations of the chapel the remains of a room of the earliest Lateran library. On one wall was a fresco of a reader, apparently Augustine, seated at a desk, an open codex before him. Beneath it was a legend referring to the writings of the fathers. Clearly this library contained theological literature, not merely archives. The painting dates from the fifth or early sixth century, but the room was probably a library much earlier. Although the Liber pontificales lists a series of popes, beginning with Celestine I (422-32), who contributed to the growth of the Lateran library, little is known of its scope and contents before the seventh century. The proceedings of the Lateran Council of 649 include an extensive list of books the council requested from the library in order to document the issues, a list that includes a great variety of theological texts, orthodox and heretical, deriving from both the Greek and the Latin church. If this list reflects the actual or approximate holdings of the library, it held an extensive collection of theological literature at least by the middle of the seventh century" (Gamble, Books and Readers in the Early Church [1999] 162-63).

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The Imperial Library of Constantinople, About Which Very Little is Known Circa 357 CE – 1453

About 357 CE the Byzantine emperor Constantius II, son of Constantine I, aware of the deterioration of early texts written on papyrus rolls, began the formation of the Imperial Library of Constantinople by having the Judeo-Christian scriptures copied from papyrus onto the more permanent medium of parchment or vellum. The person in charge of the library under Constantius II is thought to have been Themestios, who directed a team of scribes and librarians that copied the texts on papyrus rolls onto parchment or papyrus codices. It is probable that this library preserved selected texts that survived the burning of the Library of Alexandria, though the historical accounts of the destruction of the Alexandrian Library are contradictory.

Some authorities have conjectured that the Imperial Library of Constantinople might have eventually grown to about 100,000 manuscript volumes, presumably bookrolls and codices; however, so little is actually known about the Imperial Library that it is impossible to estimate how many volumes it might have housed at any time. It is also possible that the conjectured number as high as 100,000 volumes is more reflective of the quantity of information preserved in modern times than the much more limited production and survival of information in the ancient world in general and Byzantium in particular.

"The first indication of an imperial library in Constantinople comes from Themistius, who in an oration delivered in 357 congratulates the emperor on having undertaken to reconstitute and collect in Constantinople the literary heritage of ancient hellenism by having the works of ancient authors, including minor ones, transcribed by a cadre of professional scribes working at imperial expense (Or.4.59-61). Such a scriptorium and such a task presuppose a library, and the library, if not established by Constantius, owed its character and early development to him. Subsequently, according to Zosimus (Hist. nov. 3.11.3) the emperor Julian (361-63) lent his patronage to the library and enlarged its holdings with his own. The Theodosian code (14.9.2) informs us that in 372 the emperor Valens ordered the employment of seven copyists (antiquarii)--four for Greek and three for Latin texts--and some assistants to maintain and repair the books of the imperial library. Thus we know that the library housed both Greek and Latin texts, but not necessarily in separate libraries, as was the practice in Rome" (Gamble, Books and Readers in the Early Church. A History of Early Christian Texts [1995] 168).

"The twelfth-century epitomist Joannes Zonaras relays an old and possibly accurate estimate that in 475 when the [Imperial] library [of Constantinople] was damaged by fire it contained 120,000 volumes, which suggests that the library grew steadily during the first century after its founding" (Gamble, op.cit. 169).

Remarkably little is known concerning any Byzantine libraries, but it has been assumed that the Imperial Library in Constantinople preserved many of the Greek texts that have come down to us, and it has been suggested by some scholars that in the eighth century Charlemagne was able to obtain copies of classical texts from the Imperial Library, though it is much more likely that books at Aachen were copied from those in monastery libraries under Charlemagne's rule. We may never know for certain what connections the library in Aachen might have made with the Imperial Library in Constantinople as only a handful of actual codices that can definitely be traced to the Imperial Library have survived, and those are in Europe rather than in Turkey. In May 2014 the best paper I could find on Byzantine libraries was Nigel G. Wilson, "The Libraries of the Byzantine World," Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 8 (1967) 53-80. From this I quote passages:

"To discuss so large a subject as the libraries of the Byzantine world within the limits of a single paper may seem unduly ambitious. The chronological and geographical range of the topic is enormous. But despite the great advance of Byzantine studies in this century the amount of primary source material on this subject remains modest, one might well say disappointing, since the references are normally brief and difficult to interpret with any confidence. A short but reasonably comprehensive survey is not out of the question, especially if the scope of the essay is restricted in two ways. Unfortunately a chronological limitation is imposed by the nature of the sources: comparatively little is known of the earlier periods of the empire, and in consequence nearly all my material relates to the ninth century or later. The second restriction is that my concern will be the libraries of institutions, mostly monasteries, rather than those of private individuals; there were of course collectors who had the means to build up substantial private libraries, but the cost of collecting on this scale ensured that it was a hobby reserved for a few rich men, and with the one notable exception of Arethas the details of their activities cannot be traced." (Wilson, op. cit., p. 53)

Among the many historical problems regarding the Imperial Library of Constantinople, we have no way of estimating how many volumes it might have contained:

"There is no means of telling how many books the emperor's library contained. Even if the mediaeval sources gave any figures they would have to be treated with reserve, as numerals are singularly subject to corruption in manuscript tradition, and in addition it is a well-known fact that the majority of people find it impossible to give accurate estimates of large numbers. Obviously it was a large library by the standards of the day, since it had to satisfy the demands of the imperial family and probably the civil service officials employed in the palace." (Wilson, op. cit., p. 55)

Another aspect was that the Imperial Library is known to have been significantly destroyed in the Fourth Crusade of 1204 when Norman crusaders, attempting to form a Latin Empire, sacked Constantinople, almost completely destroying the city. They burned the Imperial Library, probably nearly destroying its collections. The 1204 sack of Constantinople has been described as one of the most profitable and disgraceful sacks of a city in history. It is believed that crusaders may have sold some rare Byzantine manuscripts to Italian buyers. 

As a result of the sack of Constantinople the Byzantine capital was moved to Nicaea, and about the year 1222 Emperor John III Doukas Vatatzes or Ducas Vatatzes reestablished the Byzantine Imperial Library in that city. From Nicaea the Byzantines began a campaign to recapture Constantinople from the Normans, and in 1261 the Byzantine Emperor of NicaeaMichael VIII Palaiologos, succeded in reconquering Constantinople, and reestablished the Imperial Library in a wing of the Great Palace of Constantinople. Inevitably, in the forced move of those books which were not destroyed or looted in 1204 to Nicaea, and in the efforts toward reconstruction before and after the move back to Constantinople, contents of the library which had not been destroyed through fire or attrition, may have suffered further losses. Another factor contributing to our very limited knowledge of the contents of the Imperial Library was its final destruction or dismemberment in the seige of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453 that brought the Roman Empire to an end. 

Of books known to have been once in the Imperial Library of Constantinople, only a handful have survived:

"It appears that Andronicus III gave a copy of one of Galen's works to Robert I of Anjou, which was used as a basis for a Latin translation by Niccolò of Reggio (floruit ca. 1308-45); the evidence for this is that a manuscript of Niccolò's version (Paris, Nouv.acq.lat. 1365) has a colophon dated 1336 which mentions the gift. As certain works ascribed to Galen survive only in the Latin versions by Niccolò, it is tempting to speculate that these too reached the West through a gift of the emperor. Finally we can point to a small gift made to a collector of the Renaissance, Giovanni Aurispa, who ways that the emperor gave him copies of Xenophon's De re equestri and Procopius' Wars; this took place about 1420.

"It is also a reasonable inference that a few luxuriously produced volumes with portraits of individual emperors were intended for their use and became part of the imperial library. Examples are Parisinus gr. 510, a ninth century copy of Gregory of Nazianzus, and two books prepared for Basil II, the so-called Monologion (MS Vat. gr. 1613) and the Psalter (MS Ven.gr. 17). But these are standard texts and tell us nothing significant about the library. It is good that such masterpieces of illumination and calligraphy have survived, but if they had not, it would not have been rash to assume that the emperors had fine copies of such works. . . .

"The only other book surviving from the library seems to be Parisinus gr. 1115, a collection of theology written in 1276, which has the note, "deposited in the royal library" (εναπετεθη εν τη βασιλικη βιβλιοθηκη). . . ." (Wilson, op. cit., pp. 56-57). 

(This entry was last revised on 03-15-2015.)

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Early Christians May Have Destroyed What Remained of the Alexandrian Library Because of its Pagan Contents 391 CE

One theory suggests that in 391 CE what remained of the Alexandrian Library was held in the Serapeum of Alexandria, a temple built by Ptolemy III and dedicated to Serapis, the syncretic Hellenistic-Egyptian god who was made the protector of Alexandria.

According to the the monk historian and theologian Tyrannius Rufinus and the historian of the Christian church Salminius Hermias Sozomenus (Σωζομενός Sozomen), Theophilus of Alexandria, Patriarch of Alexandria, discovered a hidden pagan temple. He and his followers mockingly displayed the pagan artifacts to the public which offended the pagans enough to provoke an attack on the Christians. The Christian faction counter-attacked, forcing the pagans to retreat to the Serapeum, which at that time may have housed what remained of the Alexandrian Library.  In response to this conflict the emperor sent Theophilus a letter ordering that the offending pagans be pardoned, but giving permission to destroy the temple and its pagan contents. According to church historian Socrates Scholasticus or Socrates of Constantinople, the emperor granted permission to destroy the temple in response to heavy solicitation by Theophilus.

“ 'Seizing this opportunity, Theophilus exerted himself to the utmost ... he caused the Mithraeum to be cleaned out... Then he destroyed the Serapeum... and he had the phalli of Priapus carried through the midst of the forum. ... the heathen temples... were therefore razed to the ground, and the images of their gods molten into pots and other convenient utensils for the use of the Alexandrian church'  —Socrates Scholasticus, The Ecclesiastical History" (Wikipedia article on Theophilus of Alexandria, accessed 11-28-2010).

♦ A papyrus fragment from an illustrated Greek chronicle written in Alexandria circa 450 CE has survived, depicting Theophilus standing triumphantly on top of the Serapeum, providing a near contemporary portrait of Theophilus in the context of these events. _________________________________________________________

In 2009 Spanish film director Alejandro Amenábar released the historical fiction film Agora based on elements of these historical events, and the life of the female neoplatonic philosopher and mathematician Hypatia (portrayed by Rachel Weisz), who was the daughter of the last known mathematician associated with Alexandria, Theon of Alexandria (portrayed by Michael Lonsdale). In my opinion this is among the few historical films to include discussion of serious, if watered-down scientific and philosophical ideas along with all the action sequences. The drama seems relatively objective, presenting the tragedy of the deaths of Hypatia and Theon, and the loss of the Alexandrian Library against unbiased and unflattering portrayals of the conflicts between pagans and Christians, and the conflicts between Christians and Jews.

From the standpoint of book history, the film seems reasonably accurate, with the exception of two details: in one scene a Christian is shown preaching from a papyrus roll. More than likely this would have been a codex; in another scene a Christian preacher is appropriately shown with an open codex written in what resembles the correct Greek majuscule. The other probably inaccurate detail is the way that the rolls are shelved in the Serapeum. Instead of pigeon hole shelves which would probably have been historically accurate, the rolls are displayed in shelves with diagonal cross-pieces rather like those used in some wine cellars. The film was a critical success but commercial flop in the U.S.; it was financially successful in Europe, and released on DVD in 2010

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At the Beginning of the Dark Ages Production of New Manuscripts Essentially Ceased Circa 400 CE – 600

"There is a tendency to write about ancient literature and late antique manuscripts as if they vanished, all at once, in the chaotic centuries often called the Dark Ages—to see the history of transmission in this period largely in terms of large-scale physical destruction. Such a picture is slightly out of focus. Yes, the period AD 400-600 saw a great deal of destruction; but then, destruction from fire and the elements was not new to Roman history. The exceptional element was that the production of new manuscripts ceased; the market for new books rapidly diminished and, once the market dried up, the means of production disappeared. This was not so much a result of the physical destruction of either the readers or the bookshops, but rather because the traditional audience, namely the Roman senatorial class, within a couple of centuries dwindled in size and recycled itself as an ecclesiastical class with its own, albeit small, means of producing manuscripts.

"Lack of production, of course, does not equal lack of use—in many respects, quite the opposite. The newly emerging societies cherished Roman coins, and clipped them to make the smaller denominations appropriate to their greatly reduced money economy, since they did not mint large quantities of precious metals of their own. In similar fashion, Roman books whether papyrus or parchment continued to serve the needs of the shrinking literate class—not new books, but the enormous residue of the antique book trade that reposed in public and private libraries. These slowly gravitated to ecclesiastical libraries (locus of the new literate class), to be sent north with the missionaries. Benedict Biscop, for example, had no difficulty finding books to carry north to Norhumbria when he visited Rome in the 670s; but these were old books, already a century or two older than he.

"What is remarkable is the length of time that Christian Rome and its infrastructure endured. As we have suggested, Roman civilization, centred on the city, the forum, and the public baths, which was once thought to have been destroyed by the Visigoths and Ostrogoths who sacked Rome in the course of the fifth century, is now generally recognized as having remained, though undeniably altered, reasonably intact until the middle of the sixth century; indeed, the external trappings of this civilization were gladly appropriated by the Ostrogothic kindom of Theodoric (475-527), whom both Boethius and Cassiodorus served. The physical devastation of Roman Italy occurred, ironically, through the reassertion of imperial power—the reappearance in 540 of Byzantine armies in Italy under the emperor Justinian's general Belisarius. Rome changed hands five times in these campaigns.

"What survived Belisarius' legions fell to the Lombards, the last of the tribal groups to move into Italy. Any city, such as Milan, that opposed the Lombard advance was razed; those like Verona that opened their gates survived unharmed. It is no wonder, then, that little of ancient Milan, city of Ambrose, survived—or, conversely, that Petrarch in the fourteenth century could find what was probably a late antique manuscript of Cicero's letters to Atticus in Verona. Remarkably, the Roman aqueducts still functioned in the time of Pope Gregory I (pope 590-604); but gradually the Roman ruling class was replaced or absorbed by Lombard (or, in Gaul, by Frankish) peoples who had little need, or even less ability, to maintain the physical infrastructure of Roman civilization: the forum, public baths, roads, libraries, temples. As they became unnecessary, they were increasingly neglected. Eventually they served the only useful purpose left to them, becoming the quarries that provided the cut stone from which early medieval basilicas and royal palaces were built" (Rouse," The Transmission of the Texts," Jenkyns (ed) The Legacy of Rome: A New Appraisal [1992] 44-45). [As usual, the links are my addition.]

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500 CE – 600

The Codex Argenteus, The Primary Surviving Example of the Gothic Language Circa 520

A page from the Codex Argenteus. (View Larger)

About 520 CE the Codex Argenteus (silver codex) was written in silver and gold letters on purple vellum in probably in Ravenna, or in the Po valley, or in Brescia, probably for the Ostrogothic ruler of Italy, Theodoric

The Codex Argenteus contains fragments of the Four Gospels translated into Gothic by the fourth century Bishop Ulfilas (Wulfila), of Nicopolis ad Istrum (now Northern Bulgaria). It is the primary surviving example of the Gothic language, an extinct Germanic language that was spoken by the Goths, and set down in writing by Ulfilas who devised devised the Gothic alphabet. Of the original 336 leaves only 188 are preserved at the Carolina Rediviva library at the University of Uppsala, Sweden, plus one separate leaf, discovered, remarkably, in 1970 in the cathedral of Speyer in Germany.

During the Ostrogothic rule of Italy there was a bilateral Gothic-Latin culture, of which the Codex Brixianus, also produced in Italy at approximately the same time, survives as a Latin counterpart to the Codex Argenteus. It is believed that the Latin version of the Bible in the Codex Brixianus may be the Latin text from which Ulfilas translated the Bible into Gothic.

"With the end of Gothic rule the Gothic manuscripts in Italy were rendered valueless; what remained of them (with the exception of the Codex Argenteus) became part of that waste material which in the seventh and eighth centuries was re-used in Bobbio" (Bischoff, Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and Middle Ages [1990] 186).

After about a thousand years during which the Codex Argenteus appeared in no inventories, it was rediscovered in the middle of the 16th century in the library of the Benedictine monastery of Werden in the Ruhr, near Essen in Germany (Werden Abbey). This abbey, whose abbots were imperial princes with a seat in the imperial diets, was among the richest monasteries of the Holy Roman Empire. The Dutch physician, humanist, and linguist Johannes Goropius Becanus published the first mention of the manuscript in his 1569 book Origines Antwerpianae. In 1665 Franciscus Junius the Younger published the editio princeps of the text as Quatuor D. N. Jesu Christi euangeliorum versiones perantiquae duae, Gothica scil. et Anglo-Saxonica (Dordrecht, 1665).

In 1597 Bonaventura Vulcanius, professor of Greek at Leiden, published portions of the Gothic Bible text from the Codex Argenteus in a collection of treatises on the Goths which he edited for publication by the Plantin Press. In his preface to one of these treatises, De literis et lingua Getarum sive Gothorum, Vulcanius wrote that it represented two brief disserations by an unidentifiable scholar, the first of which he said was "concerned with the script and prounciation, and the other with the Lombardic script, which the author said he copied from a manuscript codex of great antiquity which he called 'the Silver.' This was the first publication in print of any Gothic text, and it gave the manuscript its name, Codex Argenteus. Vulcanius identified Ulfilas as the translator of Gothic text of the Bible. Vulcanius's book included images of Gothic script as compared to other ancient languages. 

"Later the manuscript became the property of the Emperor Rudolph II, and when, in July 1648, the last year of the Thirty Years' War, the Swedes occupied Prague, it fell into their hands together with the other treasures of the Imperial Castle of Hradcany. It was subsequently deposited in the library of Queen Christina in Stockholm, but on the abdication of the Queen in 1654 it was acquired by one of her librarians, the Dutch scholar Isaac Vossius. He took the manuscript with him to Holland, where, in 1662, the Swedish Count Magnus Gabriel De la Gardie bought the codex from Vossius and, in 1669, presented it to the University of Uppsala. He had previously had it bound in a chased silver binding, made in Stockholm from designs by the painter David Klöcker Ehrenstrahl" (http://www.ub.uu.se/arv/codexeng.cfm, accessed 11-22-2008).

Munkhammar, Lars. The Silver Bible: Origins and History of the Codex Argenteus. (Uppsala, 2011).

In February 2014 a digital facsimile of the Codex Argenteus was available from Uppsala University Library at this link.

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St. Benedict Founds the Abbey at Monte Cassino and Later Formulates his Rule 529

St. Benedict. (Click to view larger.)

In 529 Benedict of Nursia, better known as St. Benedict (San Benedetto da Norcia), founded the Abbey of Monte Cassino in Compania, Italy. 

Benedict's Rule, formulated near the end of his life (547), based the foundations of monastic life on prayer, study, and the assistance of the sick. Benedict's rule was influenced by the rule of John Cassian who founded the first monasteries in Europe near Marseille, southern Gaul, about 415 CE.

♦ "Every monastery, therefore, was obliged to have a doctor to attend patients and a separate place in the cloister where the sick could be treated. It thus became necessary for one, at least, of the monks to collect scientific material, to study it and to hand on his knowledge to those who would, in time, take his place. In this way was started that practical teaching which was transmitted by word of mouth from generation to generation to the great advantage of the sick breathren of the monastery. As many codices of Latin and Greek learning as could be found were collected, and translations and extracts made for the use of those who, either because their studies had been only elementary or because they lacked the time,  were incapable of reading their authors in the original text.

"What was the position of the monkish doctor in these religious colonies? It is true that in Benedictine monasteries the doctor was not granted a well-defined position by the monastic rule, like the Prior, the nurse (a man, of course—with a post which was merely administrative), the chaplain, the cellarer or the librarian. The title of medicus was, therefore, not official; its holder had no disciplinary power, and it could not directly procure him any privileges. It was a mere name given to monks who, as a result of their studies, showed some special capacity for the art of healing. But, without having any official status among the dignitaries of the monastery, they yet had a high moral position in the community. In official monastic documents they signed after those monks who were invested with the highest monastic rank. Their elevated moral position is quite clear from the important missions entrusted to thrm by great personages of the day, missions of trust which would not have been given to individuals who were not held in considerable esteem. . . .

"The doctor treated his patients, prescribed the medicaments and prepared them himself, using those which he kept in the armarium pigmentorum. The herb garden, which existed in every monastery, allowed him to have at hand the medicinal plants he needed. The students whom he gathered round him in the monastery helped him to treat the patients and prepared the medicines. The work was done in the Infirmary, a place varying in size with the importance of the monastery, and set apart from the dormitory and the refectory of the monks themselves. Into the Infirmary were taken not only sick monks but also gentlemen, townspeople, and even labourers who applied for admission. The monastic doctor, besides his practice, had also to undertake the copying of medical texts. . . . In each great Benedictine monastery a real studium was formed, from which doctors were sent to the minor centres. The work of the doctor, however, was not limited by the monastery walls. At that time, when civilian medicine was generally represented by bone-setters and travelling quacks, the services of the monastery doctor were asked of the Prior whenever a person of importance or a member of his family fell ill in the neighbourhood. Permission was given freely and lasted during the whole treatment. The monastic doctor was never sent away on duty unless accompanied by another monk or by one of his pupils. Owing to his vow of poverty, he himself could receive no reward for his services, but splendid donations in lands, money or kind were made by great lords who willingly gave such gifts pro recuperata valetudine" (Capparoni, "Magistri Salernitani Nondum Cogniti". A Contribution to the History of the Medical School of Salerno [1923] 3-5).

Concerning books and study Benedict's rule stated in its 48th chapter, Of Daily Manual Labor:

"Idleness is the enemy of the soul; hence brethren ought, at certain seasons, to occupy themselves with manual labour, and again at certain hours, with holy reading. . . .

"Between Easter and the calends of October let them apply themselves to reading from the fourth hour till near the sixth hour.

"From the calends of October to the beginning of Lent let them apply themselves to reading until the second hour. . . . During Lent, let them apply themselves to reading from morning until the end of the third hour. . . and, in these days of Lent, let them receive a book apiece from the library, and read it straight through. These books are to be given out at the beginning of Lent" (Clark, The Care of Books [1902] 56). 

Benedict's Rule mentioned a library without mentioning the scriptorium that would later become an integral part of monastic life.

♦ Benedictine scriptoria, where the copying of texts not only provided materials needed in the routines of the community and served as work for hands and minds otherwise idle, also produced a desirable product that could be sold. Early commentaries on the Benedictine rule suggest that manuscript copying was a common occupation of at least some Benedictine communities. Montalembert drew attention to the 6th-century rule of St Ferreol that regarded transcription as the equivalent of manual labor since it charges that the monk "who does not turn up the earth with the plow ought to write the parchment with his fingers" (Wikipedia article on Scriptorium, accessed 02-22-2009).

"Benedictine scriptoria, and with them libraries, became active not in the time of St. Benedict himself, but under the impulse of Irish (and later English) monks on the continent in the seventh and eighth centuries. The influence of the Anglo-Saxon missionaries, principally the Wessex-born Boniface and his allies and helpers, was especially strong in Germany, leading to the foundation of episcopal centers such as Mainz and Würzburg, and of monasteries that were to become famous for their libraries such as Fulda (744) and Hersfeld (770). The Anglo-Saxons brought with them a script and books from the well-stocked English libraries. In the course of time the preparation (and even sale) as well as consumption of books became a characteristic aspect of continental monastic life and the library a central part of the monastery" (M. Davies, "Medieval Libraries" in Stam (ed) The International Dictionary of Library History I [2001] 105).

•The image is a portrait of Benedict  from a fresco in the cloister of San Marco in Florence.

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The Deterioration of Libraries, Publishing and Educational Institutions in Italy by the Sixth Century 534

"In classical times the publication of a book had followed a rather exclusive pattern. A new work could be offered by the author to some friend or sponsor, or it could be publicaly read, or in some cases deposited in a public library. Thereafter, whoever wished to become the owner of a copy had to hire a scribe, give orders to a literate slave, or copy it himself from a borrowed example. This system led to each sample having a highly individual nature, to the point that when Pliny lamented the negligence of copyists who had departed from the exactitude of the prototype of the illustratrated treatise by Crateuas he suggested that the new copies should be amended by going back to a specialised medical garden for a new start. The prescription was against the formation of a tranmission from model to copies; in fact each copy would have been an independent original work.

"Prior to the existence of efficient copyists, public libraries had fulfilled the need to go back to the prototype, providing editors with a number of examples by which to control their new edition.

"In 534, Securus Melior Felix, a school master who practiced his trade on the Forum Traiani, amended Martianus Capella's Nuptiae Mercurrii et Philologiae with the help of his disciple Deuterius but unfortunately checking his work, as he states, against very defective examples. The proximity of his working place to the famous Bibliotheca Ulpia had been of little help in this case. Already at the time when the Historia Augusta was composed, many books from that library had been transferred to the baths of Diocletian. The contents of the Ulpian library had become legendary. One of the authors of the Historia, writing under the pseudonym of Flavius Volpiscus Syracusanus, mentions an ivory book, of which he even gives the class-number in the library's shelves.

"In the fourth century, the catalogue of the regions [Libellus de regionibus urbis Romae] gives the number of twenty-eight libraries in Rome. Many were still extant in the sixth century before the Gothic wars, although in what condition we do not know. Almost all the public libraries of Rome were attached to a temple and they must have suffered from the measures taken by Theodosius against pagan worship after the defeat of Eugenius. A library is a collection of fragile material, particularly if the majority of its books are made of papyrus and therefore require constant care. We may presume that the closing of the temples was one of the causes of the loss of many texts by classic authors.

"It has been suggested that the collections of books in the villas of Campania were transferred to the newly founded monasteries. There is no evidence for this supposition, nor it seems was there any intention to keep an eye on things reputedly pagan and at least distracting. Maintaining a library is expensive and there were not the conditions for imposing an extra expenditure on a monastery. It is certain that the long campaign of Justinian against the Goths inflicted a terrible blow to all the cultural structures of the ancient capital and of many municipal towns. We have a very authoritative witness for this disaster in Cassiodorus.

"In his introduction to the Institutiones, Cassiodorus tells us how in the same year 534 when Securus Melior Felix was editing Martianus Capella, he had tried with the help of Pope Agapitus to build a library and a school for Christian studies in Rome, on the model of that of Nisibis [Nusaybin]. This would be a new institution which would rival the public teaching of secular lterature. However, due to the wars and troubles which 'had devastated the kingdom of Italy', the project fell through" (Bertelli, "The Production and Distribution of Books in Late Antiquity," IN: Hodges & Bowden (eds) The Sixth Century: Production, Distribution and Demand [1998] 52-54).

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The Most Important Medical Center During 6th and 7th Centuries 550 – 650

Gundishapur, province of Khuzestan, Iran. (View Larger)

The Academy of Gundishapur, located in the present-day province of Khuzestan, in southwest Iran, contained an important library and offered training in medicine, philosophy, theology, and science. According to the Cambridge History of Iran, this Academy was "the most important medical center of the ancient world (defined as Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Near East) during the 6th and 7th centuries."

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Written in the Imperial Scriptorium of Constantinople and Dismembered by Crusaders Circa 550

Folios 23v and 24r of the Codex Petropolitanus Purpureus. (View Larger)

The Codex Petropolitanus Purpureus, a 6th century Greek New Testament codex gospel book with very many lacunae, originated in the Imperial Scriptorium of Constantinople, and was dismembered by crusaders in the 12th century. The manuscript text is in two columns, 16 lines, in large majuscules (capital letters), measuring 32 x 27 cm. The lettering is in silver ink on vellum dyed purple, with gold ink for nomina sacra. The text is of the Byzantine text-type in a very early stage, but some parts represent Caesarean readings.

In 1896 Nicholas II of Russia commissioned Fyodor Uspensky's Russian Archaeological Institute to buy the greater part of it for the Imperial Public Library in St. Petersburg. 

Perhaps as a result of its 12th century dismembering, the 231 surviving folios of the manuscript are preserved in an unusually large number of different libraries in different countries:

  • "182 leaves in the National Library of Russia in Saint Petersburg,
  • 33 leaves in the Library of the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian on the Island of PatmosGreece, Mark 6:53-7:4; 7:20-8:32; 9:1-10:43; 11:7-12:19; 14:25-15:23;
  • 6 leaves in the Vatican Library in Rome, Matthew 19:6-13; 20:6-22; 20:29-21:19
  • 4 leaves in London, British Library, Cotton Titus C. XV; Matthew 26:57-65; 27:26-34; John 14:2-10; 15:15-22; they were named the Codex Cottonianus;
  • 2 leaves in the National Library of Austria in Vienna,
  • 1 leaf in the Morgan Library in New York,
  • 1 leaf in the Byzantine Museum in Athens,
  • 1 leaf in the Museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessaloniki
  • 1 leaf in the private collection of Marquis А. Spinola in Lerma (1), Italy." (Wikipedia article on Codex Petropolitanus, accessed 02-18-2014).
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Perhaps the First Library in Japan Circa 550 – 645

"The first extant notice of a collection of books in Japan, naturally Chinese books, dates from the sixth century. According to an early Heian genealogical compilation, Shinsen shojiroku, there was a Chinese Buddhist monk called Zhicong living in the 'capital' in the reign of the emperor Kimmei (r. 539-71) who had brought with him from China 164 rolls of Buddhist and secular works, including pharmacological studies and medical books which showed the places on the body to be used for acupuncture or moxibustion. The date is not impossibly early, particularly since the owner was an immigrant, and the precision is striking, but the source is a late one and it is wise to be cautious. Ono Noriiaki dates book-collecting from the seventh century, citing the account in Nihon shoki of Sogo no Iruka's insurrection in 645 which ended with the burning of his books. Ono also notes that the Horyu Gakumonji, a temple emponymously devoted to learning, must also have had a library at this time, although nonting is known of it" (Peter Kornicki, The Book in Japan: A Cultural History from the Beginnings to the Nineteenth Century [2001] 364-5).

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The Scriptorium and Library at the Vivarium Circa 560

An image from Codex Amiantinus. (Click to view larger.)

About 560, after the execution of Boethius, Roman statesman Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator (generally known as Cassiodorus) retired and formed a school and monastery at his estate at Squillace in the far south of Italy. He named it the Vivarium, after the fishponds which were a "feature of its civilized lifestyle." The monastery included a purpose-built scriptorium intended to collect, copy, and preserve texts. Former magister officiorum to Theodoric, the Ostrogothic ruler of Rome, Cassiodorus lived in the twilight of Late Antiquity. His Vivarium was the last effort, at the very close of the Classical period, to bring Greek learning to Latin readers, a concern shared by Boethius who had been executed in 524.

Prior to founding the Vivarium, Cassiodorus, along with Pope Agapetus I had desired to found a seminary modeled after the School of Nisibis, about which Cassiodorus had learned in Constantinople from the Quaestor Junillus. However, resources were insufficient for such a large project.

"Cassiodorus was not so much concerned with preserving ancient literature as with educating Christian clerics. But he saw, as Augustine had seen, that a grounding in the traditional liberal arts was a necessary preliminary to the interpretation and understanding of the Bible. This program of study, set out in his treatise on divine and secular learning, Institutiones divinarum et saecularium literarum, necessarily involved a supply of books and the foundation of a library. His monks were enjoined to copy manuscripts as an act of piety, paying close attention the accuracy and presentation of their handiwork. Pagan works stood on the shelves as ancillary to Christian studies, The library of Cassiodorus, apparently arranged by subject in at least ten armaria (book cupboards), is the only sixth-century example of which there is definite knowledge.

"The monastery of Vivarium and its library seem not to have long survived the death of Cassiodrus circa 580, but amid growing political distintegration and cultural decay it set an example that was widely followed elsewhere (M. Davies, "Medieval Libraries" in D. Stam (ed.) International Dictionary of Library Histories I [2001] 104-5).

At the Vivarium Cassiodorus had monks produce a vast pandect of the bible called the Codex Grandior. He also had them copy out nine volumes of his own work, Institutiones divinarum et saecularium litterarum. "Along with detailed instruction for a religious routine, the author told how manuscripts should be handled, corrected, copied, and repaired, and included what amounted to an annotated bibliography of the best literature of the time " (Harris, History of Libraries in the Western World 4th ed [1999] 91).

Cassiodorus also stated "that biblical manuscripts should be bound in covers worthy of their contents, and he added that he had provided a pattern book with specimens of different kinds of bindings"  (Graham Pollard, Early Bookbinding Manuals [1984] 1). This may be the earliest detailed reference to bookbinding.

"From his [Cassiodorus's] writings we know that the library founded by him possessed 231 codices of 92 different authors, amongst which were five codices on medical subjects, including the works of Hippocrates, Galen, Dioscorides, Celsus and Coelius Aurelianus" (Capparoni, "Magistri Salernitani Nondum Cogniti". A Contribution to the History of the Medical School of Salerno. [1923] 3).

After the death of Cassiodorus the manuscripts at the Vivarium were dispersed, though some of them found their way into the library maintained at the Lateran Palace in Rome by the Popes.

The image is from the Codex Amiatinus, which is thought to be based upon Cassiodorus' Codex Grandior.

(This entry was last revised on 09-22-2015.)

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From the Monastery on the Small Island of Iona, the Conversion of Pagan Scotland and Much of Northern England Circa 563

Saint Columba (View Larger)

Exiled from his native Ireland, in 563 Saint Columba founded with 12 companions a monastery on the small island of Iona in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. From there the monks undertook the conversion of pagan Scotland and much of northern England to Christianity. Iona's fame as a place of learning and Christian mission spread throughout Europe. It became a major site of pilgrimage, and the burial ground of several kings of Scotland, Ireland and Norway.

"The establishment of Iona as the centre of Celtic Christianity outside Ireland by Columba c. 563 marked the effective beginning of the conversion of Scotland and led on in time to the foundation of such important monasteries as Lindisfarne in Northumbria and Malmesbury in the south-west. Even more spectacular was the continental mission of Columbanus [not to be confused with Columba] who blazed a trail accross Europe marked out by such important monastic foundations as those of Luxeuil in Burgundy (590), from which Corbie was founded a century later, Bobbio in northern Italy (614) and Saint Gall, which developed from a hermitage which his pupil Gallus established in Switzerland c. 613" (Reynolds & Wilson, Scribes and Scholars 3rd ed [1991] 87).

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"Source Z" for the Latin New Testament Circa 575 – 599

A canon table from Harley 1775, from the British Library. (View Larger)

British Library, Harley 1775, a mixture of the Vulgate and Old Latin translation of the Gospels, dating from the final quarter of the sixth century, is called "source Z" in critical studies of the Latin New Testament. In the 17th century the manuscript was owned by Jules Cardinal Mazarin. In the early 18th century it was in the Bibliothèque Royale, ancestor of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, from which it was stolen along with several other manuscripts in 1707 by the renegade priest and adventurer, Jean Aymon. Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford, purchased the manuscript in Holland. In 1753 the widow of Edward Harley, 2nd Earl of Oxford and their daughter, sold the manuscript to Parliament as part of the Harleian collection, which became one the founding collections of the British Museum, and later of the British Library.

The manuscript is written in Uncial (Littera Uncialis).

"The term 'Uncial' has been thought (perhaps mistakenly) to have been coined in reference to letters an inch high and has been ascribed,probably aporcryphally, to St. Jerome, whose reference to the script and its 'luxury' status are, in fact, somewhat disparaging. Any such remark need not to have referred to the script which we now know as Uncial. There is no word division, the text being written in  the scriptura continua of Antiquity and set out, or punctuated, per cola et commata (i.e. the length of lines primarily indicating where pauses occur and serving to clarify the sense" (Brown, A Guide to Western Historical Scripts from Antiquity to 1600 [1990] no. 5 and plate 5).

In February 2014 a digital facsimile was available from the British Library at this link.

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The Monastery and Library at Luxeuil is Founded and Subsequently Sacked, Several Times 585 – 590

Saint Columbanus.

Between 585 and 590 the monk St. Columbanus from Bangor in Ireland founded an abbey on the ruins of a Gallo-Roman settlement at Luxeuil. His name was Columban in Irish, meaning "white dove;" he should not be confused with St. Columba, who founded the monastary on the island of Iona.

Columban (Columbanus) brought manuscripts from Ireland to found the abbey library at Luxeuil. Because of the treasures it held, this Celtish monastery was sacked by Vandals in 731, and after it was rebuilt it was devastated by Normans in the ninth century, and was sacked several times thereafter.

"The output of this house over the sixth to eighth centuries furnishes not only the msost advanced writing of the period but manuscripts of the highest liturgical importance. The finest of these are constructed and articulated with originality and care. They effectively illustrate the momentous change that was to end the long period during which Latin Uncial was the dominant script for such books" (Morison, Politics and Script. . . . Barker ed. [1972] 112).

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The End of the Continuity of Late Latin Culture in Most of Italy Circa 585

The Lombard (Langobard, Longobard) Germanic invasion of Italy in 585, which roughly coincides with the death of Cassiodorus, marked the end of the continuity of Late Latin culture in most of Italy.

According to Bernhard Bischoff,

"we cannot be sure whether remnants of the twenty-eight public libraries which are mentioned in a fourth-century description of the urbs Roma continued to survive. There was certainly a library at the Lateran, and libraries and archives existed in Rome as well as in other cities like Capua, Naples, Ravenna, and Verona. There were also monastic libraries like the one in Eugippius' monastery. Copies of the Code of Justinian produced in Constantinople must have been kept ready for consultation by public administrators in their offices. If the famous Codex Pisanus of the Digest of Justinian now in Florence was not at that time in use in Italy, the papyrus copy once at Ravenna, of which a few folios are preserved at Pommerfelden near Bamberg, certainly was. We know that there still existed examplars corrected by their authors themselves, such as Boethius. There were probably manuscripts in Italy copied by Jerome himself. Marginal notes made by readers or colophons referring to the collation of texts show that many manuscripts belonged to private citizens or to specific libraries. The Codex Mediceus of Virgil was studied by the consul Turcius Rufius Apronianus Asterius (cos. 494); the name of the consul Vettius Agorius Basilius Mavortius (cos. 527) is found in the Paris codex of Prudentius. In many cases, the notes and corrections of readers and grammarians were fortunately preserved for us in later copies. The activities of the families of Symmachus and Nicomachus in the pagan revival at the end of the fourth century century influenced the tradition of the works of Livy. Subscriptions in a Carolingian manuscript now in the Bibliotheca Ambrosiana in Milan, G. 108 inf.s, saec. IX, testify to the existence of a school of doctors in Ravenna where the exemplar originated. Dedications in exemplars now lost were preserved by copies. The dedication page of the Calendar of 354 tells us the name of the bibliophile Valentinus and of the scribe Philocalus, who is well known as the designer of the inscriptions of Pope Damasus. All this evidence shows that most of these now-lost exemplars, whose copies we fortunately possess, were kept in libraries in Rome, Ravenna, and Campania. Some manuscripts came from Constantinople, like the archetype of Priscian and the copy of Solinus, whose scribe was the emperor Theodius II himself. I conclude this brief catalogue by referring to a small book, formerly kept in the treasure of the cathedral of Chartres, which contains the Gospel of St. John. On the basis of a statement made by Jerome, it is plausible that this little book was originally a Christian amulet. I might also mention a fragment of a Hebrew scroll, Greek codices, and the manuscripts in Gothic, all of which, except for the purple Codex Argenteus in Uppsala, ended up as palimpsests.

"The period of book production from the fourth to the sixth centuries was followed by a period of book distribution which lasted from the time of Gregory the Great to the time of Otto III (d.1002) and perhaps beyond. Many of the libraries still in existence as late as 567 were destroyed in the centuries that followed. Books kept in Rome, Campania, Ravenna, and perhaps in other centres which have not yet been identified, circulated as occasion demanded. The widespread circulation of books probably began with Gregory the Great (d.604), who had copies of his own works made for friends in Italy, for Leander bishop of Seville, and for Theodolinda, the Lombard queen who received from him a copy of his Dialogues as well as a Gospel book, of which only the priceless binding remains today, preserved in the cathedral of Monza. . .  ." (Bischoff, Manuscripts and Libraries in the Age of Charlemagne [2007] 7-9). (The links are, of course, my additions.)

(This entry was last revised on 03-21-2014.)

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Augustine of Canterbury Preaches to the Anglo-Saxons 597

St. Augustine of Canterbury. (View Larger)

In 597 Pope Gregory I sent the Benedictine monk Augustine of Canterbury and 40 other monks to convert the pagan Anglo-Saxons of Britain. For this purpose Gregory gave Augustine precious manuscripts, probably from the Lateran Library.

King Ethelbert of Kent, a pagan, and his wife, Berthe, a Christian, permitted the monks to preach in the town of Canterbury. Soon Augustine converted Ethelbert and within a short time at Christmas "10,000 of the king's subjects were baptized."

"Augustine reconsecrated and rebuilt an old church at Canterbury as his cathedral and founded a monastery in connection with it. He also restored a church and founded the monastery of St. Peter and St. Paul outside the walls. He is claimed to have founded the King's School, Canterbury, which would make it the world's oldest school; however there may be little more to this than that some teaching took place at the monastery."

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A Volume Brought by St. Augustine to England in 597 597

Folio 129v of the St. Augustine Gospels, depicting Luke. (View Larger)

The St. Augustine Gospels, an illuminated Gospel Book written in a sixth-century Italian uncial hand, has traditionally been considered one of the volumes brought by St. Augustine from Rome to Canterbury, England in 597. The manuscript, from the library of Archbishop of Canterbury Matthew Parker, is preserved in the Parker Library at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. It is characterized by the Parker Library website as the "oldest illustrated Latin gospel book now in existence." Assuming that it travelled to England with Augustine in 597, the manuscript has been in England longer than any other book. It contains corrections to the text in an insular hand of the late 7th or early 8th century, which would confirm the presence of the manuscript in England.

"It was certainly at St. Augustine's Abbey in Canterbury in the 11th century, when documents concerning the Abbey were copied into it. The manuscript was given to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge by Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury. It is still produced for the enthronements of new Archbishops of Canterbury."

"The manuscript once contained evangelist portraits for all four Evangelists. However. only the portrait for Luke is still extant (Folio 129v). A full page miniature on folio 125r prior to Luke contains twelve narrative scenes from the Passion" (Wikipedia article on the St. Augustine Gospels, accessed 11-25-2008)

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600 – 700

Foundation of the Monastery and Library at Bobbio 614

Saint Columbanus (View larger)

In 614 Saint Columbanus founded the Abbazia di San Colombano at Bobbio, in the province of Piacenza in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. Bobbio became famous as a center of resistance to Arianism, and the abbey library, founded by Columbanus with manuscripts that he brought from Ireland and treatises which he personally wrote, became one of the greatest libraries of the Middle Ages. 

"Many books in its libary are older than the monastery and this demonstrates that Bobbio received many books second-hand. I refer especially to the copies of Cyprian, the biblical codex k of African origin, the Medici Virgil, the very ancient grammatical manuscripts, and especially, to the classical texts which lie buried in palimpsests" (Bischoff, Manuscripts and Libraries in the Age of Charlemagne [2007] 9).

In the ninth century Saint Dungal bequeathed his library to the abbey. It included some seventy volumes, among which was the famous 'Antiphonary of Bangor'.

In 982, Gerbert of Aurillac (later Pope Sylvester II) became abbot of Bobbio, and with the aid of numerous ancient treatises which he found there, composed his celebrated work on geometry. It appears that when Greek was almost unknown in western Europe, certain Irish monks at Bobbio read Aristotle and Demosthenes in the original Greek.

"A tenth-century catalogue, published by Muratori, shows that at that period every branch of knowledge, divine and human, was represented in this library. Many of the books have been lost, the rest have long since been dispersed and are still reckoned among the chief treasures of the later collections which possess them.

 "In 1616 Cardinal Federico Borromeo took for the Ambrosian Library of Milan eighty-six volumes, including the famous "Bobbio Missal", written about 911, the Antiphonary of Bangor, and the palimpsests of Ulfilas' Gothic version of the Bible. Twenty-six volumes were given, in 1618, to Pope Paul V for the Vatican Library. Many others were sent to Turin, where, besides those in the Royal Archives, there were seventy-one in the University Library until the disastrous fire of 26 January 1904" (Wikipedia article on Bobbio Abbey, accessed 12-03-2008).

Umberto Eco based the location of his 1980-83 novel The Name of the Rose, with its labyrinthine library, on the abbey at Bobbio.

(This entry was last revised on March 22, 2014.)

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The Illuminated Gospel Book as a Tool for Evangelization 627

York Minster (View Larger)

The cathedral at York, York Minster, was constructed first of wood in 627, and then in 637 in stone ."A period of instability followed with York vulnerable to attack from Penda of Mercia and the Britons of North Wales. We know that the city was overrun at least twice and probably three times between the death of Oswald in 641/2 and the Battle of the Winwaed in 654/5. In about 670 St. Wilfred took over the see of York and found the structure of Edwin's church fairly lamentable 'The ridge of the roof owing to its age let the water through, the windows were unglazed and the birds flew in and out, building their nests, while the neglected walls were disgusting to behold, owing to all the filth caused by the rain and the birds.'

"Saint Wilfred set to work renewing the roof and covering it with lead, whitewashing the interior walls and installing glass windows. Based on descriptions given of other churches built at a similar time it is possible to understand something of how Wilfred's restored church at York would have looked to the 7th century worshippers who entered it. The altar, within which relics were deposited, would have been decorated with purple silk hangings of intricate woven design. Upon the altar, raised by a book rest and in a jewelled binding, would stand the illuminated gospel book. The walls and probably also the testudo (a wooden partition screening the altar) would be adorned with icons painted on wooden panels depicting the types and anti-types of the Old and New Testaments. These church paintings were essential to the evangelization of England, being the only effective way of explaining the 'the new worship' to an illiterate population. Gregory the Great called them 'the books of the unlearned'."

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A Library Containing "54,000 Rolls" 627

A portrait of emperor Taizong of Tang on a hanging silk scroll, currently preserved in the National Palace Museum in Taipei. (View Larger)

In 627, under the reign of Chinese emperor Taizong of Tang (Chinese: 唐太宗; pinyin: Táng Tàizōng, Wade-Giles: T'ai-Tsung)  a library was erected in the Chinese capital containing "some fifty-four thousand rolls" (Carter, Invention of Printing in China, 2nd ed [1955] 37).

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Foundation of the Monastery on Lindisfarne 634

Saint Aidan (View larger)

In 634 Saint Aidan, an Irish monk from Iona, founded the monastery on the tidal island at Lindisfarne off the North-East coast of England. It became a center of learning with an important library.

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Foundation of Corbie Abbey, Renowned for its Library 659 – 661

The Abbey at Corbie. (View Larger)

Balthild, widow of Clovis II, and her son Clotaire III, founded Corbie Abbey about 659-661. The first monks at Corbie came from Luxeuil Abbey, which had been founded by Saint Columbanus in 590, and the Irish respect for classical learning fostered at Luxeuil was carried forward at Corbie. The rule of these founders was based on the Benedictine rule, as modified by Columbanus.

"Above all, Corbie was renowned for its library, which was assembled from as far as Italy, and for its scriptorium. In addition to its patristic writings, it is recognized as an important center for the transmission of the works of Antiquity to the Middle Ages. An inventory (of perhaps the 11th century) lists the church history of Hegesippus, now lost, among other extraordinary treasures. In the scriptorium at Corbie the clear and legible hand known as Carolingian minuscule was developed, in about 780, as well as a distinctive style of illumination.

"Three of Corbie's ninth-century scholars were Ratramnus (died ca. 868), Radbertus Paschasius (died 865) and the shadowy figure of Hadoard. Jean Mabillon, the father of paleography, had been a monk at Corbie.

"Among students of Tertullian, the library is of interest as it contained a number of unique copies of Tertullian's works, the so-called corpus Corbiense and included some of his unorthodox Montanist treatises, as well as two works by Novatian issued pseudepigraphically under Tertullian's name. The origin of this group of non-orthodox texts has not satisfactorily been identified.

"Among students of medieval architecture and engineering, such as are preserved in the notebooks of Villard de Honnecourt, Corbie is of interest as the center of renewed interest in geometry and surveying techniques, both theoretical and practical, as they had been transmitted from Euclid through the Geometria of Boëthius and works by Cassiodorus (Zenner).

"In 1638, 400 manuscripts were transferred to the library of the monastery of St. Germain des Prés in Paris. In the French Revolution, the library was closed and the last of the monks dispersed: 300 manuscripts still at Corbie were moved to Amiens, 15 km to the west. Those at St-Germain des Prés were loosed on the market, and many rare manuscripts were obtained by a Russian diplomat, Petrus Dubrowsky [Peter Petrovich Dubrovsky] and sent to St. Petersburg. Other Corbie manuscripts are at the Bibliothèque Nationale. Over two hundred manuscripts from the great library at Corbie are known to survive" (Wikipedia article on Corbie Abbey, accessed 08-20-2009).

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The Sana'a Palimpsest, One of the Earliest Surviving Manuscripts of the Qur'an 670

One of the Qu'ran fragments found in the loft of the Great Mosque in 1972. (View Larger)

In 1972 workers renovating a wall in the atttic of the Great Mosque of Sana'a (الجامع الكبير بصنعاء‎ Al-Jāmiʿ al-Kabīr bi-Ṣanʿā) in Yemen discovered a large collection of early manuscripts, including fragments from nearly 1000 early Qur'an codices. Among those, the Sana'a palimpsest (Sana'a 1) is among the earliest surviving manuscripts of the Qur'an. Written on parchment in Hijazi script (Hejazi,  خط حجازي‎ ḫaṭṭ ḥiǧāzī), the manuscript  comprises two layers of text. The upper text conforms to the standard 'Uthmanic Qur'an, whereas the lower text or undertext contains many variants to the standard text. According to the Wikipedia, radiocarbon analysis dated the parchment containing the undertext to before 671 CE with "99% accuracy".

"While the upper text is almost identical with the modern Qur'ans in use (with the exception of spelling variants), the lower text contains significant diversions from the standard text. For example, in sura 2, verse 87, the lower text has wa-qaffaynā 'alā āthārihi whereas the standard text has wa-qaffaynā min ba'dihi. Such variants are similar to the ones reported for the Qur'an codices of Companions such as Ibn Mas'ud and Ubayy b. Ka'b. However, variants occur much more frequently in the Sana'a codex, which contains "by a rough estimate perhaps twenty-five times as many [as Ibn Mas'ud's reported variants]". . . .

"The manuscript is not complete. About 80 folios are known to exist: 36 in Yemen’s Dār al-Makhṭūṭāt (House of Manuscripts), 4 in private collections (after being auctioned abroad), and 40 in the Eastern Library of the Grand Mosque in Sana’a.Many of the folios in the House of Manuscripts are physically incomplete (perhaps due to damage),whereas those in private possession or held by the Eastern Library are all complete.These 80 folios comprise roughly half of the Qur'an" (Wikipedia article on Sana'a palimpsest, accessed 11-20-2014).

Writing in 2012 Behnam Sadeghi of Stanford University and Mohsen Goudarzi of Harvard University stated:

"The lower text of San'a 1 is at present the most important document for the history of the Qur'an. As the only known extant copy from a textual tradition beside the standard Uthmanic one, it has the greatest potential of any known manuscript to shed light on the early history of the scripture. Comparing it with parallel textual traditions provides a unique window onto the initial state of the text from which the different traditions emerged. The comparison settles a perennial controversy about the date at which existing passages were joined together to form the suras (chapters). Some ancient reports and modern scholars assign this event to the reign of the third caliph and link it with his standaridzing the text of the Qur'an around AD 650. However, the analysis shows that the suras were formed earlier. Furthermore, the manuscript sheds light on the manner in which the text was transmitted. The inception of at least some Qur'anic textual traditions must have involved semi-oral transmission, most likely via hearers who wrote down a text that was recited by the Prophet. . . " (Sadeghi & Goudarzi, "San'a' 1 and the Origins of the Qur'an," Der Islam 87, No. 1-2 (February 2012) 1-129, quotation from p. 1).

Sadeghi, Behnam; Bergmann, Uwe, "The Codex of a Companion of the Prophet and the Qur'ān of the Prophet". Arabica 57 No. 4 (2010) 343–436.

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A Library Containing Manuscripts from All Parts of the Known World 690

A map of the Umayyad Caliphate at its greatest extent, in 750 CE. (View Larger)

Rulers of the Umayyad Caliphate in Damascus, Syria, established a palace library for which they obtained manuscripts from all parts of the known world.

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700 – 800

The First State Libraries in Japan 702

"It is in the eighth century that we have the first firm evidence [in Japan] of collections of books maintained by the state, by religious institutions and by private individuals. The lawcodes promulgated in 702 established the first state library, the Zushoryo, which was supervised by a government ministry [in Nara] and was largely modelled on the Bi shu sheng of Tang China. It was responsible for collecting and conserving both Buddhist and Confucian books and, unlike the Bi shu sheng, was required to complile official histories. For these purposes it had a staff of 4 papermakers, 10 brushmakers, 4 inkmakers and 20 copyists, for collecting was partly dependent on the copying of texts held elsewhere. It consumed huge quantities of paper, drawn by the tenth century from 42 of the 66 provinces, and appears to have become increasingly absorbed in sutra-copying. The statutes contained in the Engishiki include a number of regulations relating to the  Zushoryo, such as a requirement that the books be aired regularly, which shows that it also functioned as a repository of books. Precisely what books is unclear, although a ruling in 728 refers to both secular and Buddhist works as well as screens and paintings, and by 757 the Zushoryo had its own catalogue. The same source stipulates that permission was needed if somebody wished to borrow more than one item at a time, but doubtless the right to borrow was restricted. In 833 some of the buildings were burnt down and in 1027 its treasures were destroyed by fire. It may have been revived as there is a record of another fire in 1042, but it then disappears from the record until the Meiji government established a new Zushoryo in 1884" (Peter Kornicki, The Book in Japan: A Cultural History from the Beginnings to the Nineteenth Century [2001] 365).

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One of the Oldest, Largest, and Most Signficant Medieval Libraries 719

The library in the Abbey of St. Gall. (View Larger)

In 1719 the Benedictine Abbey of St. Gall, Switzerland, was founded on a site that had been used for religious purposes since 613.

"Around 613 an Irishman named Gallus, a disciple and companion of Saint Columbanus, established a hermitage on the site that would become the Abbey. He lived in his cell until his death in 646.

"Following Gallus' death, Charles Martel appointed Othmar as a custodian of St Gall's relics. During the reign of Pepin the Short, in 719, Othmar founded the Abbey of St. Gall, where arts, letters and sciences flourished. Under Abbot Waldo of Reichenau (740-814) copying of manuscripts was undertaken and a famous library was gathered. Numerous Anglo-Saxon and Irish monks came to copy manuscripts. At Charlemagne's request Pope Adrian I sent distinguished chanters from Rome, who propagated the use of the Gregorian chant.

"In the subsequent century, St. Gall came into conflict with the nearby Bishopric of Constance which had recently acquired jurisdiction over the Abbey of Reichenau on Lake Constance. It wasn't until King Louis the Pious (ruled 814-840) confirmed the independence of the Abbey, that this conflict ceased. From this time until the 10th Century, the Abbey flourished. It was home to several famous scholars, including Notker of Liège, Notker the Stammerer, Notker Labeo and Hartker (who developed the Antiphonal liturgical books for the Abbey). During the 9th Century a new, larger church was built and the library was expanded. Manuscripts on a wide variety of topics were purchased by the Abbey and copies were made. Over 400 manuscripts from this time have survived and are still in the library today" (Wikipedia article on Abbey of St. Gall, accessed 01-17-2009).

The Abbey contains one of the oldest, largest and most significant medieval libraries, consisting of 2100 codices. It is the only major medieval convent library still standing in its original location. 400 of the codices in this library date before 1000 CE. Digital facsimiles of these manuscripts were available from the Codices Electronici Sangallenses.

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The Foundation of English Historical Writing Circa 731

Historia ecclasiastica gentis Anglorum, folio 3v of Beda Petersburgiensis, dated 746. (View Larger)

About 731 The Venerable Bede, a Benedictine monk at the Northumbrian monastery of Saint Peter at Monkwearmouth, England, and of its companion monastery, Saint Paul's, in modern Jarrow, completed Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People). This work was the founding document of English History.

Bede's works show that he had at his command virtually all of the learning of his time. It is thought that the library at Wearmouth-Jarrow, built up by abbot Benedict Biscop through his extensive travels, might have included as many as 250 titles, probably in fewer volumes, making it the largest and most extensive in England at the time.

"Bede's writings are classed as scientific, historical and theological, reflecting the range of his writings from music and metrics to exegetical Scripture commentaries. He was proficient in patristic literature, and quotes Pliny the Elder, Virgil, Lucretius, Ovid, Horace and other classical writers, but with some disapproval. He knew some Greek, but no Hebrew. His Latin is generally clear and without affectation, and he was a skilful story-teller. . ." (Wikipedia article on Bede, accessed 11-22-2008).

(This entry was last revised on 08-11-2014.)

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Most of the Surviving Greek Literature was Translated into Arabic by 750 750

"Most of the surviving Greek literature was translated into Arabic by 750, and Aristotle, for example, became so widely studied that literally hundreds of books were written about him by Arabic scholars. The Moslems also obtained Greek works from Constantinople through regular trade channels and captured others in their various wars with the Eastern Empire" (Harris, History of Libraries in the Western World 4th ed [1999] 78).

"The early Abbasid Caliphs, adopting a religious philosophy that encouraged learning and debate, promoted the establishment of universities and libraries throughout their realm. Early beginnings were made under Al-Mansur (754-775) and Harun al-Rashid (785-809) of Arabian Nights fame, but was Al-Mamun the Great (813-833) who brought the "House of Learning" [House of Wisdom] or university at Baghdad into prominence. With libraries, laboratories, subsidized scholars, a translating service, and even an astronomical observatory, this institution attracted scholars from Spain to India" (Harris 79).

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Foundation of the House of Wisdom in Baghdad 762

A modern photograph of a courtyard in the House of Wisdom, also known as the Bait al-Hikma. (View Larger)


In 751 the second Abbassid Caliph, Abu Ja'far Al-Mansur, founded the city of Baghdad. There he founded a palace library, which, according to some sources, evolved into The House of Wisdom. According to those sources, the library was originally concerned with translating and preserving Persian works, first from Pahlavi (Middle Persian), then from Syriac and eventually Greek and Sanskrit. One standard view was encountered in the Wikipedia article, from which I quote:

"The House of Wisdom acted as a society founded by Abbasid caliphs Harun al-Rashid and his son al-Ma'mun who reigned from 813-833 CE. Based in Baghdad from the 9th to 13th centuries, many of the most learned Muslim scholars were part of this excellent research and educational institute. In the reign of al-Ma'mun, observatories were set up, and The House was an unrivalled centre for the study of humanities and for sciences, including mathematics, astronomy, medicine, chemistry, zoology and geography. Drawing on Persian, Indian and Greek texts—including those of Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, Hippocrates, Euclid, Plotinus, Galen, Sushruta, Charaka, Aryabhata and Brahmagupta—the scholars accumulated a great collection of knowledge in the world, and built on it through their own discoveries. Baghdad was known as the world's richest city and centre for intellectual development of the time, and had a population of over a million, the largest in its time.The great scholars of the House of Wisdom included Al-Khawarizmi, the "father" of algebra, which takes its name from his book Kitab al-Jabr" (Wikipedia article on House of Wisdom, accessed 12-01-2008).

In 2014 I read Dimitri Gutas's Greek Thought, Arabic Culture. The Graeco-Arabic Translation Movement in Baghdad and Early 'Abbasid Society (2nd-4th/8th-10th centuries.) (1998). In that book Gutas presented a significantly different view of the bayt al-hikma, or House of Wisdom. From his summary on the topic (pp. 58-60) I quote:

"This is all the substantive and reliable evidence that we have and it allows only the following reconstruction of the nature and function of the bayt al-hikma: It was a library, most likely established as a 'bureau' under al Mansur, part of the 'Abbasid administration modeled on that of the Sasanians. Its primary function was to house both the activity and the results of translations from Persian into Arabic of Sasanian history and culture. As such there were hired translators capable to perform this function as well as book binders for the preservation of books. . . This was its function in Sasanian times, and it remained it throughout the time of Harun ar-Rasid, i.e. the time of Barmakids. Under al-Ma'mun it appears to have gained an additional function related to astrononomical and mathematical activities; at least this is what the names associated with the bayt-al-hikma during that period would imply. We have, however, no specific information about what those activities actually were; one would guess research and study only, since none of the people mentioned was himself actually a translator. Al-Ma'mun's new rationalist ideological orientations, discussed in chapter 4, would explain the additional functions of the library during his reign.

"This then is all we can safely say about the bayt al-hikma. We have abolutely no evidence for any other sort of activity. It was certainly not a center for the translation of Greek works into Arabic; the Graeco-Arabic translation movement was completely unrelated to any of the activities of the bayt-al-hikma. Among the dozens of reports about the translation of Greek works into Arabic that we have, there is not even a single one that mentions the bayt-al-hikma. This is to be contrasted with the references to translations from the Persian; we have few such references and yet two of them, both in the Fihrist cited above, do mention the bayt-al-hikma. Most amazingly, the first hand-report about the translation movement by the great Hunayn himself does not mention it. By the same token, the library was not one which stored, as part of its mission, Greek manuscripts. Hunayn mentions the efforts he expended in search of Greek manuscripts and again he never mentions that he looked for them right under his nose in the bayt al-hikma in Baghdad (cf. chapter 7.4). Ibn-an-Nadim, who claims that his Himyarite and Ethiopian manuscripts came from al-Ma'mun's library, says nothing of the sort when he describes the different kinds of Greek writing.

"The bayt-al-hikma was certainly also not an 'academy' for teaching the 'ancient sciences as they were being translated; such a preposterous idea did not even occur to the authors of the spurious reports about the transmission of the teaching of these sciences that we do have (discussed in chater 4.2). Finally, it was not a 'conference' center for the meetings of scholars even under al-Ma'mun's sponsorship. Al-Ma'mun, of course (and all the early 'Abbasid caliphs), did host scholarly conferences or rather gatherings, but not in the library; such gauche social behavior on the part of the caliph would have been inconceivable. Sessions (magalis) were held in the residences of the caliphs, when the caliphs were present, or in private residences otherwise, as the numerous descriptions of them that we have indicate (for one hosted by al-Ma-mun see chapter 4.3).

"What the bayt-al-hikma did do for the Graeco-Arabic translation movement, however, is to foster a climate in which it could be both demanded and then conducted successfully. If indeed the bayt-al-hikma was an 'Abbasid administrative bureau, then it institutionalized the Pahlavi into Arabic translation culture. This means that all activities implied or suggested by this culture—the Zorastrian ideology of the recovery of ancient Avestan texts through the (re-) translation of Greek works and all that that implied—could be conducted as semi-official activities, or at least as condoned by official policy. The numerous translations from the Greek which were commissioned by the Barmakids, for example should be seen in this light. The example set by the caliphs and the highest adminstrators was naturally followed by the others of lesser rank, both civil servants and private individuals. Once the existence of this additional official—though indirectly so—sanction for Graeco-Arabic translations is realized, the origins and rapid spread of the movement in early 'Abbasid times is better understood."

The House of Wisdom is thought to have flourished until it was destroyed by the Mongols in the sacking of Baghdad in 1258.

(This entry was last revised on 05-02-2014.)

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The Oldest Surviving Book in the German Language 765 – 775

The Abrogans, or Codex Abrogans, a dictionary of synonyms or glossary or word-list from Latin into Old High German, is the oldest surviving book in the German language. Abrogans ("humble") is the first word on the word-list.

The codex is preserved in the library of the Abbey of St. Gall. (St. Gall, Stiftsbibliothek, Codex 911).  In February 2014 a digital facsimile was available as part of the Codices Electronic Sangallenses (CESG) virtual library project at this link.

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One of the Finest Libraries North of the Alps: About 100 Books 767

Raban Maur (left), flanked by Alcuin (middle), dedicates his work to Archbishop Otgar of Mainz (Right), taken from a Carolingian manuscript (ca. 831/40) currently residing in the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek Wien. (View Larger)

In 1767 the monk Alcuin became head of the episcopal school at the Cathedral of York. This cathedral had been destroyed by fire in 741, and then rebuilt on a grander scale. Alcuin devoted himself to teaching and to building up the library at the Cathedral— one the finest libraries north of the Alps at this time.

"Athough most of Alcuin's writing dates from his residence in Francia, the roots of his formidable learning and capacity lay in the York years, as he himself often made clear. It would seem in fact, that York was the first place in Europe to create a cathedral school of this scale and character. It was the model to which Alcuin turned in his mind while serving Charlemagne in the later part of his life, and he saw himself, in some ways, as its ambassador. It is important, however, not to project back upon this period the scale of later medieval schools and libraries. The closest parallel was Bede's library, built up by Benedict Biscop and Ceolfrith at Monwearmouth-Jarrow, a place that Alcuin knew well and evidently loved. It is possible to conjecture that there may have been up to 250 titles there, but not necessarily so many actual books. it seems that this may actually have been the largest library ever assembled throughout the Anglo-Saxon period. Hardly any of it now remains, though perhaps some of its volumes, or copies of them, could have found their way to York itself. In his York poem, Alcuin proudly lists forty authors whose works adorned the library built up by Aethelbert. To this may be added a further eighteen works from one of the few of Alcuin's writings that can dated to his time in York. It is most unlikely, therefore, that the York library in its heyday exceeded 100 books, some of which Alcuin later exported to Tours. Mostly these would have been kept in chests rather than on open shelves. Among them would have been liturgical books, Bibles, lectionaries, sacramentaries and so forth. To York came requests for the copying of books throughout the eighth and ninth centuries, from the continent, and presumably from within England, itself. Its scriptorium was important and respected, but of the York library itself nothing certain now remains" (Dales & Williams, Alcuin: Theology and Thought [2013] 31).

Lapidge, The Anglo-Saxon Library (2006) 40-42.

(This entry was last revised on 08-11-2014.)


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Production of Manuscripts and Interest in Books Begins in Germany in the Last Third of the Eighth Century Circa 770

The production of manuscripts, and evidence of interest in books, did not begin in Germany until the last third of the eighth century, just before the reign of Charlemagne.

"Few books written before this period were preserved in cathedral libraries. A codex written toward the year 700 for Basinus, who was perhaps the bishop of Trier, is preserved in the Bibliotheca Vallicelliana. Two manuscripts of canon law, one written in South France at the time of Gregory the Great, the other written about a century later in Northumbria, are still the property of the Cathedral of Cologne, to which they probably already belonged in the eighth century" (Bischoff, Manuscripts and Libraries in the Age of Charlemagne [2007] 18).

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The Codex Aureus of Lorsch and its Dispersal 778 – 820

Folio 72v of the Codex Aureus of Lorsch, depicting Christ. (View Larger)

The Codex Aureus of Lorsch, also known as the Lorsch Gospels, is one of the masterpieces of manuscript illumination produced during the period of Charlemagne's rule over the Frankish Empire.

"It was located for the first time in Lorsch Abbey (Germany), where it was mentioned as Evangelium scriptum cum auro pictum habens tabulas eburneas in the catalogue of the Abbey's library, compiled in 830 under Abbot Adelung. Considering gold letters in the manuscript and its location at Lorsch it was named the Codex Aureus Laurensius. In the tenth and eleventh centuries, the library of Lorsch was the one of the best libraries of the world."

Just prior to Lorsch's dissolution in 1563 the manuscript was taken to Heidelberg and incorporated into the Bibliotheca Palatina in Heidelberg, from which it was stolen in 1622 during the Thirty Years' War

". . . the codex was broken in two and the covers torn off. The richly illustrated first half reached the Migazzi Library and after that was sold to Bishop Ignac Batthyani. This section is now in Alba Iulia, Romania, and belongs to Batthyaneum Library. The second half is in the Vatican Library. The front cover is held by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and the back cover by the Vatican Museums of Rome" (Wikipedia article on the Codex Aureus of Lorsch, accessed 11-23-2008).

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The Contributions of the Emperor Charlemagne and the Educator Alcuin to the Carolingian Renaissance Circa 780 – 820

 "The classical revival of the late eighth and early ninth centuries, without doubt the most momentous and critical stage in the transmission of the legacy of Rome, was played out against the background of a reconstituted empire which stretched from the Elbe to the EbroCalais to Rome, welded together for a time into a political and spiritual whole by the commanding personality of an emperior who added to his military and material resources the blessing of Rome. Although the political achievement of Charlemagne (768-814) crumbled in the hands of his successors, the cultural movement which it fostered retained its impetus in the ninth century and survived into the tenth.

"The secular and ecclesiastical administration of a vast empire called for a large number of trained priests and functionaries. As the only common denominator in a heterogeneous realm and as the repository of both the classical and the Christian heritage of an earlier age, the Church was the obvious means of implementing the educational program necessary to produce a trained executive. But under the Merovingians the Church had fallen on evil days; some of the priests were so ignorant of Latin that Boniface heard one carrying out a baptism of dubious efficacy in nomine patria et filia et spiritus sancti (Epist. 68), and knowledge of antiquity had worn so thin that the author of one sermon was under the unfortunate impression that Venus was a man. Reform had begun under [Charlemagne's father] Pippin the Short; but now the need was greater, and Charlemagne felt a strong personal responsibility to raise the intellectual level of the clergy, and through them of his subjects. . . ." (Reynolds & Wilson, Scribes and Scholars 3rd ed [1991] 92-93).

In 780, at Parma Charlemagne, King of the Franks, met the Anglo-Saxon monk Alcuin, who was head of the episcopal school at the Cathedral of York. Charlemagne took scholarship seriously. He had learned to read as an adult, although he never quite learned how to write. At this time of reduced literacy outside of the clergy, writing of any kind was an achievement for kings, many of whom were illiterate.

Recognizing that Alcuin was a scholar who could help him achieve a renaissance of learning and reform of the Church, in 782 Charlemagne induced Alcuin to move to the royal court as Master of the Palace School at Aachen, where Alcuin remained until 796. This school was attended by members of the royal court and the sons of noble families. At Aachen Alcuin established a great library, for which Charlemagne obtained manuscripts from Monte Cassino, Rome, Ravenna and other sources.

"Books are naturally attracted to centres of power and influence, like wealth and works of art and all that goes with a prosperous cultural life. Some arrive as the prerequisites of conquest, or as the gifts that pour in unasked when the powerful have made thier wishes plain, some in response to the magnetic pull of an active and dynamic cultural movement. Others were actively sought out by those promoting the educational and cultural aims of the revival. There was such a break in the copying of the classics in the Dark Ages that many of the books that provided the exemplars from which the Carolingian copies were made must have been ancient codices, and this immediately raises a fundamental question; where did all the books that have salvaged so much of what we have of Latin literature come from? As far as we can tell from the evidence available, the total contribution of Ireland and England, Spain and Gaul, was small in comparison with what came from Italy itself, from Rome and Campania and particularly, it would seem, from Ravenna after its capture by the forces of Charlemagne. Nor did the wholesale transference of classical texts to northern Europe exhaust the deposits in Italy, for Italy continued, down to the end of the Renaissance and beyond, to produce from time to time texts which, as far as we can tell, had been unknown north of the Alps. 

"Gathering impetus with each decade, the copying of books went on apace through the length and breadth of Charlemagne's empire. Such ancient classical manuscripts as could be found, with their imposing majuscule scripts, were transformed, often at speed, into minuscule copies, and these in time begot further copies, branching out into these complex patterns to which the theory of stemmatics has reduced this fascinating process. The routes by which texts travelled as they progressed from place to place were naturallty governed in part by geographical factors, as they moved along the valleys of the Loire or Rhine, but even more by the complex relationships that existed between institutions and the men who moved between them. There are so many gaps in our knowedge, and so many of pieces in this puzzle have been irrevocably lost, that we can never hope to build up a convincing distribution map for the movements of texts in this period. But certain patterns are discernible, and the drift of texts south and west through the Low Countries and northern France, and down the Rhine to the shores of Lake Constance, appears to point to a fertile core in the area of Aachen, and this would confirm the crucial importance of the palace as a centre and a catalyst for the dissemination of classical texts" (Reynolds & Wilson, op. cit. 97-98).

Also at Aachen, and later at Tours to which he retired in 796, Alcuin promoted the development of the Carolingian minuscule, which became the writing standard for the eighth and ninth centuries.

"The use. . . of a script more compact in the body and needing less time to write, may have been decided upon in view of the plans to proceed with a State educational project, the greatest ever undertaken in the West, or perhaps anywhere at any time in the Roman Empire. For such an enterprise the employment of an accelerated script would become an interest of State, or, to be accurate, of State and Church" (Morison, Politics and Script. . . . Barker ed. [1972] 143).

Regarding the origin of Carolingian minuscule there is little consensus. In the words of palaeographer Stan Knight:

"Some authorities detect Roman (ie.half-uncial) roots, others French pre-Carolingian, some even see Insular influence (perhaps seeking a link with Alcuin), others cursive or semi-cursive scripts. Various combinations of these influences are also suggested. The opinions are many and bewildering.
        "The problem is made more complicated because the actual emergence of Carolingian minuscule appears to have been rather haphazard. There is no solid evidence to suggest that it emanated from just one center, nor can any systematic development of the script be discerned (apart from the natural maturing observable in the work of energetic scriptoria like that at Tours). . . . My considered opinion is that Carolingian minuscule was a modification of the ancient and serviceable half-uncial script, incorporating certain features gathered from other current scripts, and that the Abbey of Corbie led the field in this vitally important calligraphic development" http://dh101.humanities.ucla.edu/DH101Fall12Lab1/items/show/8, accessed 08-07-2014).

Alcuin revised the church liturgy, and also revised Jerome's translation of the Bible. Alcuin and his associates— particularly the Visigothic writer, poet and bishop Theodulf of Orleans, who produced his own, competing, edition of the Bible — were responsible for an intellectual movement within the Carolingian Empire in which many schools were attached to monasteries and cathedrals, and Latin was restored as a literary language. Along with these schools there was a flowering of libraries and manuscript book production.

Charlemagne's Admonitio generalis, a collection of legislation known as a capitulary issued in 789, covered educational and ecclesiastical reform within the Frankish kingdom, established his religious and educational aspirations for the kingdom, and became a foundation for the Carolingian Renaissance.  

"Before the surge of education following the Admonitio Generalis and subsequent Carolingian Renaissance, it was difficult for the Frankish people to connect with Christianity and the church. Peasant life was very hard; the people were illiterate and Latin, the language of the church, was not their native language, making Christianity and the Bible difficult to access. Nobles also were largely uneducated and uncultured, with few devoted Christians among them. Only the clergy were consistent in having some level of education, and thus they had the best understanding and exposure to the Bible and the full extent of Christianity. The schools, which the Admonitio ordered established by the monasteries and cathedrals, began a tradition of higher learning in Carolingian Europe, leading the revival known as the Carolingian Renaissance. The fulfillment of Admonitio Generalis meant that the study of language, rhetoric and grammar in these institutions, as well as the standardizing of writing scripture and Latin, was undertaken in order to make religious texts and books accessible to the clergy, as well as their correction and standardization. However this strengthened all forms of Carolingian literature, and book production, as well as developments in law, historical writing, and uses of poetry all flourished in these schools. In fact, the capitularies themselves, and the level of language they use, are examples of the increasing importance of writing within the Frankish kingdom. As well as language, the Admonitio Generalis ordered other arts such as numbers and arithmetic, ratios, taxes, measure, architecture, geometry, and astrology to be taught, leading to developments in each field and their application within society. Charlemagne pushed for an educated clergy who could help lead reform, because it was his belief that the study of arts would aid them in understanding sacred texts, which they could then pass on to their followers. During the Carolingian Renaissance, Charlemagne unified religious practices and culture within his realm, creating a Christian kingdom, and ultimately unifying his empire" (Wikipedia article on Admonitio Generalis, accessed 08-06-2014).

"The Carolingian programme of renewal was consciously based on Antiquity. Order and stability lay in a vigorous revival of that which was useful and applicable from the Roman past: e.g. its imagery and art forms, such as the human figure as the central theme of art, or its reliance on the written word. Although, culturally, its upward trajectory had peaked by AD 877, this Carolingian renewal had by then insured the survival of ancient art and literature. The text of virutally every ancient Latin author is today edited largely from Carolingian manuscripts. Texts of only a handful of ancient authors—TibullusPropertiusCatullus among them—are not reconstructed from manuscripts of the Carolingian renaissance" (Rouse, "The Transmission of the Texts," Jenkyns ed. The Legacy of Rome: A New Appraisal [1992] 46-47).

(This entry was last revised on 08-19-2014).

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"Very Little That Was Recopied in the Crucial Ninth Century Was Subsequently Lost" Circa 790

The court library of Charlemagne at Aachen set an example for abbey and cathedral scriptoria throughout the Holy Roman Empire.

"The titles of classical books jotted down in a Berlin manuscript circa 790 have been shown to be a partial list of the library at Aachen. It is remarkable for the range and rarity of the authors represented—Sallust, Martial, Lucan, and Cicero, for example—some of whose books had scarcely survived the Merovingian period. Indeed, it is characteristic of many textual traditions propagated in Carolingian times from old (fifth- or sixth-century) manuscripts, with an intermediate stage. Very little that was recopied in the crucial ninth century was subsequently lost, and the diligent collecting of these earlier representatives themselves ensured the survival of many ancient codices in capitals and uncials.

"Many monastic libraries evidently relied upon copies taken from the palace library for their stock. Some such as Corbie on the Somme or St. Martin at Tours, seem to have benefited spectacularly from their close connection to the court. Other books would be bequeathed by wealthy patrons or procured from outside by persistent begging for loans such as Lupus, Abbot of Ferrières (south of Paris) in the mid-ninth century, engaged in for much of his life. Monastic and cathedral libraries also freely exchanged copies of works as they were needed, along regular routes of circulation. France, especially in the north and central areas, had the lions share of this general revival of learning in terms of numbers of books produced, but the old Irish monasteries in Germany — Fulda, Hersfeld, St. Gall-and more modern foundations such as the imperially favored abbey of Lorsch, south of Mainz, also housed and recopied large numbers of manuscripts old and new, some of them of great importance. Of the seven ancient Italian manuscripts on which the text of Virgil rests, at least four were preserved in Carolingian monasteries in France and Germany" (M. Davies, "Medieval Libraries," Stam (ed)., The International Dictionary of Library Histories I [2001] 105-6).

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Vikings Sack the Monastery and Library of Lindisfarne in the First Viking Raid on Britain June 8, 793

The ruins of Lindisfarne Abbey. (View Larger)

In the first Viking raid on Britain, on June 8, 793Vikings, sacked the monastery of Lindisfarne, a center of learning famous across the continent, built on a tidal island off the northeast coast of England, including its library among their spoils.

"Monks were killed in the [Lindisfarne] abbey, thrown into the sea to drown or carried away as slaves along with the church treasures. Three Viking ships had beached in Portland Bay four years earlier, but that incursion may have been a trading expedition that went wrong rather than a piratical raid. Lindisfarne was different. The Viking devastation of Northumbria's Holy Island shocked and alerted the royal Courts of Europe. 'Never before has such an atrocity been seen,' declared the Northumbrian scholar Alcuin of York. More than any other single event, the attack on Lindisfarne cast a shadow on the perception of the Vikings for the next twelve centuries. Not until the 1890s did scholars outside Scandinavia begin seriously to reassess the achievements of the Vikings, recognizing their artistry, the technological skills and the seamanship" (quoted from the Wikipedia article on the Viking Age, accessed 11-22-2008).

"Monasteries were a favoured target due to the riches which were contained in them. Jarrow was invaded in 794 and Iona in 795, 802 and 806. After repeated raids by the Norsemen, the monks of Lindisfarne fled the monastery in AD 875, taking the venerated relics of Saint Cuthbert with them for safekeeping" (http://www.englishmonarchs.co.uk/vikings_5.htm, accessed 11-22-2008).

(This entry was last revised on 12-23-2016.)

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800 – 900

Some of the Earliest Library Catalogs Were Introduced in Baghdad Circa 800

It is thought that about this time library catalogs were introduced in the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, and in other medieval Islamic libraries, where books were organized into specific genres and categories.

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The Only Surviving Major Architectural Drawing from the Fall of the Roman Empire to Circa 1250 820 – 830

The Plan of Saint Gall. (View Larger)

Codex Sangallensis 1092, The Plan of Saint Gall (St. Gall), "the only surviving major architectural drawing from the roughly 700-year period between the fall of the Roman Empire and the 13th century," was created between 820 and 830 CE.

The plan, which includes a library, probably depicts an ideal Benedictine monastic compound,

"including churches, houses, stables, kitchens, workshops, brewery, infirmary, and even a special house for bloodletting. . . . much has been learned about medieval life from the Plan. The absence of heating in the dining hall, for instance, was not an oversight but was meant to discourage excessive enjoyment of meals. In the quarters for the 120-150 monks, their guests, and visitors, the ratio of toilet seats was better than what modern hygenic codes would prescribe." 

In 1979 the University of California Press published a monumental three-volume study in folio format by Walter Horn and Ernest Born entitled The Plan of St. Gall. A Study of the Architecture & Economy of, & Life in a Paradigmatic Carolinian Monastery.  From the standpoint of book design and production this work with more than 1000 pages was one of the most spectacular scholarly publications of the late 20th century. Three years later, in 1982 to accompany an exhibition concerning the plan, the U.C. Press issued another spectacular, but much thinner volume of 100 pages, The Plan of St. Gall in Brief: An overview based on the 3-volume work. . . including selected facsimile illustrations color and black and white, and also a Note on Architectural Scale Models, with illustrations in color of the Reconstruction Scale Model of the Monastery of the Pllan of St. Gall, as interpreted by Horn and Born, and crafted in bassword by Carl Bertil Lund.

By 2012 a website at www.stgallplan.org was built to place the Plan of St. Gall in its widest cultural context. Aspects of this website were summarized by Richard Matthew Pollard and Julian Hendrix in "Digital Devotion from Carolingian Reichenau and St. Gall," Digital Philology: A Journal of Medieval Cultures I (2012) 292-302. | 10.1353/dph.2012.0021, from which I quote:

"A long-term digitization project ( www.stgallplan.org) to bring the Carolingian plan for the monastery of St. Gall in Switzerland to life has earned justified praise for its impact. The project calls attention to and increases understanding of Carolingian monastic life at one of the great houses of the time. Whether the library was ever intended to be constructed or whether it was an imaginative conceptualization of an ideal library is immaterial to the light the project has shed on Carolingian spirituality. This article both introduces the project and demonstrates how digitization of manuscripts can increase the data available for studying devotion and the religious emotions that it entailed.

"There are few single documents more important for the history of medieval art, architecture, monasticism, and, as we hope to show in this essay, devotional emotions, than the famous drawing known as the Plan of St. Gall. This document, now preserved at the monastery Stiftsbibliothek in Switzerland, was drawn up for abbot Gosbert of St. Gall by two scribes of the sister monastery of Reichenau, on Lake Constance, around 820. An early and accomplished piece of technical drawing, the Plan measures 112 by 77.5 cm (slightly smaller than A0 paper, for those keeping track) and is made of five pieces of parchment sewn together. It depicts a large monastery complex, centred around an elaborate church, with cloister and refectories, scriptorium and library, alongside breweries, bakeries, a mill, and even a shoemaker'€™s shop. We do not know why exactly it was drawn up, but the dedication, probably written by Haito, abbot of Reichenau, indicates that it was given to Gosbert so that he might 'exercise your ingenuity and recognize my devotion.'€  Gosbert was undertaking building projects at the time, and so the plan may have been prompted by Gosbert'€™s desire to begin construction at St. Gall. It is clear, however, that St. Gall was not built from this plan, though some of the buildings there might have been inspired by it (Jacobsen). It is perhaps better to think of the Plan as a very detailed sketch of '€œthe ideal monastery' in the Carolingian imagination, where the whole world is reordered to the service of God (Dey 1940).  

"It is an unfailing axiom of medieval history that the ease of access to a document declines in proportion to its importance. This, and the Plan'€™s unwieldy size, has made it a difficult resource to use. Several years ago, therefore, Patrick Geary, of UCLA, and Bernard Frischer, of the University of Virginia, conceived of a project to make the Plan, and ancillary bibliography and analysis of it, accessible in virtual form. With the cooperation of the St. Gall librarians, extremely high-resolution pictures were taken of the Plan, and displayed using a special java applet, allowing the images to be panned, rotated, and zoomed. The result is actually much more useful and detailed than what one could experience with the large and unwieldy Plan.  In this first phase of the project, ancillary documents were added alongside to help contextualize the monastic environment that produced the Plan. Initially this focused on material culture: for instance, images of hundreds of Carolingian objects (pots, brooches, carvings, etc.) were put online to give a sense of the things used and produced in a monastery like that represented in the Plan. The second phase of the project aims to give a sense of the intellectual environment that produced the Plan by giving access to the books that were present at Reichenau (and St. Gall) when the Plan was produced. The project has acquired digital reproductions of 168 manuscripts present at Carolingian Reichenau and St. Gall. These are being presented in the same, high-resolution, zoomable form as the Plan, and are paired with updated descriptions."

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Rules for the Scriptorium and the Library Circa 825

St. Theodore, the Studite.

At Stoudios (Latin: Studium), a monastery near Constantinople, about 825 Abbot Theodore produced a new set of monastic regulations that emphasized the scriptorium and the library, and outlined the duties of the librarian.

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Inventories of Ninth Century Libraries 833 – 835

"The evidence for the arrangement and contents of libraries in and before the ninth century is sparse. In the earliest times the numbers to be stored were small. As there was no pressing problem of storage or access, the need for elaborate finding aids did not arise. Between 300 and 400 manuscripts—most with two or more works within them—was a good-sized collection for a Carolingian monastery: St. Gall owned 395 codices in 835 and the Cologne cathedral had 108 in 833. From the most prolific scriptorium of the age, that of Tours, 350 manuscripts still survive. The oldest library catalogs, such as that of Fulda in the mid-eighth century, are no more than lists of titles, often imperfect and for the most part simple inventories of the books as they stood on the shelf. The order of the lists reflects the usual subject arrangement: Bibles first, followed by glosses, liturgies, patristic works, philosophy, law, grammar, sometimes with historical and medical works at the end, and classical works scattered among the relevant headings. The Lorsch catalogs of the earlier part of the ninth century are a good deal lengthier and more detailed, with 590 titles arranged in 63 classes. Since monasteries were places of education as well as worship, many of the classical texts and nearly all the grammatical works would have been used as school texts. Books were usually stored in cupboards, either in the church or in the cloister closest adjoining it, sometimes in the refectory (for communal reading) as well. The separate library room was, in general, a later development, but in an early ninth-century plan believed to be an idealized scheme of a monastery with a bibliotheca and scriptorium attached to the church, survives in St. Gall" (M. Davies, "Medieval Libraries" in D. Stam (ed.) The International Dictionary of Library Histories I [2001] 106).

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The al-Qarawiyyin Library, the Oldest Working Library in the World, Reopens after Restoration 859 – May 2015

In March 2016 it was announced that the al-Qarawiyin Library in Fez, Morocco, the oldest working library in the world, founded ed 859 CE, would re-open after restoration. The library was founded by Fatima Muhammad Al-Fihri Al-Quraysh.

"The al-Qarawiyyin Library was created by a woman, challenging commonly held assumptions about the contribution of women in Muslim civilization. The al-Qarawiyyin, which includes a mosque, library, and university, was founded by Fatima El-Fihriya, the daughter of a rich immigrant from al-Qayrawan (Tunisia today). Well educated and devout, she vowed to spend her entire inheritance on building a mosque and knowledge center for her community. According to UNESCO, the result is the oldest operational educational institution in the world, with a high-profile role call of alumni. Mystic poet and philosopher Ibn Al-‘Arabi studied there in the 12th century, historian and economist Ibn Khaldun attended in the 14th century, while in medieval times, Al-Qarawiyyin played a leading role in the transfer of knowledge between Muslims and Europeans" (http://ideas.ted.com/restoring-the-worlds-oldest-library/, accessed 03-03-2016).

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Vikings Destroy the Library of York Cathedral 867


In 867 Danish Vikings destroyed the library of the Cathedral of York. This library had been considerably augmented by the efforts of Alcuin, and had become even more famous after Alcuin's time. In following centuries this church and its area passed into the hands of numerous invaders. York Cathedral was destroyed by the Danes in 1075.

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Over 100 Booksellers and 30 Public Libraries in Baghdad 891

"It was said that Baghdad alone had over one hundred booksellers in 891, and that at the height of its cultural glory it had some thirty public libraries" (Harris, History of Libraries in the Western World [1999] 79).

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900 – 1000

The Most Famous, and Most Significant Manuscript of the Iliad Circa 950

Folio 12r of Venetus A. (View Larger)

The most famous Greek manuscript of the Homeric Iliad, Venetus A (Marcianus Graecus Z. 454 [=822]), is regarded by some as the best text of the epic poem. It also contains several layers of annotations, glosses, and commentaries known as the "A scholia."  These are thought to preserve editorial comments made by scholars at the Royal Library of Alexandria, as well as scholia accumulated by late antique annotators and philologists until the manuscript was written at Constantinople during the Macedonian Renaissance. The manuscript, also includes a summary of the early Greek Epic Cycle which is considered the most important source of information on those lost poems. 

At the end of most of the books of the poem there is a subscription, attributing many of the scholia to four Homeric scholars from antiquity. This was translated as follows:

"Alongside the text lie the Signs of Aristonicus, and Didymus' work On the Edition of Aristarchus, as well as some things from the Prosody of Herodian and Nicanor's On Punctuation."

The first scholar mentioned in the subscription, the Greek grammarian Aristonicus (Ἀριστόνικος Aristonikos) of Alexandria, lived during the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius. He taught at Rome, and wrote commentaries and grammatical treatises. Most of his works were related to the Homeric poems, including On the Wanderings of Menelaus (περὶ τῆς Μενελάου πλάνης), On the Critical Signs of the Iliad and Odyssey (περὶ τῶν σημείων τῆς Ἰλιάδος καὶ Ὀδυσσείας), on the marginal signs by which the Alexandrian critics used to mark suspected or interpolated verses in the Homeric poems and in Hesiod's Theogony, and On Ungrammatical Words (ἀσυντάκτων ὀνομάτων βιβλία), a work of six books on irregular grammatical constructions in Homer. These and some other works are for the most part lost, except for fragments preserved in the scholia of Venetus A.

The second scholar mentioned, Greek scholar and grammarian Didymus Chalcenterus (Δίδυμος χαλκέντερος Didymos chalkenteros, "Didymus bronze-guts"), flourished in the time of Cicero and Augustus. His surname "bronze-guts" came from his nearly incredible productivity: he was said to have written so many books that he was unable to recollect what he had written in earlier ones, and so often contradicted himself. (Athenaeus records that he wrote 3500 books; Seneca estimated that he wrote 4000.) As a result Didymos acquired the additional nickname βιβλιολάθης "book-forgetter". Didymos taught in Alexandria and Rome, and is chiefly important as having introduced Alexandrian learning to the Romans. A follower of the school of the Alexandrian grammarian and editor Aristarchus of Samothrace (Ἀρίσταρχος), Didymos wrote a treatise on Aristarchus' edition of Homer entitled On Aristarchus' recension (περὶ τῆς Ἀριστάρχου διορθωσέως), fragments of which are preserved in Venetus A.

The third scholar cited, Aelius Herodianus (Αἴλιος Ἡρωδιανός) or Herodian, was one of the most celebrated grammarians of Greco-Roman antiquity. He was born in Alexandria, and from there he seems to have moved to Rome, where he gained the favor of the emperor Marcus Aurelius, to whom he dedicated a work on prosody. He is usually known as Herodian except when there is a danger of confusion with the historian also named Herodian.

Lastly, the Greek grammarian Nicanor (Νικάνωρ) Stigmatias lived during the reign of Hadrian in the early 2nd century. According to the Suda he came from Alexandria; according to Stephanus of Byzantium he came from Hierapolis. The Suda records that Nicanor acquired the nickname stigmatias (στιγματίας, punctuated) because of his concentration on punctuation. His scholia on the elucidation of Homer's epics through punctuation are extensively quoted in the Venetus A.

"Scholars refer to the work of these men as the 'four-man commentary,' or VMK (from the German Viermännerkommentar). The repeated subscriptions in the Venetus A identify the areas of Homeric studies to which each of the four contributed. Aristonicus wrote on the topic of editorial symbols attached to the text. Herodian wrote on questions of prosody, that is poetic meter. Nicanor wrote about punctuation. And Didymus wrote about the earlier editorial work of the Alexandrian scholar Aristarchus.

"A certain category of scholia, while related to the VMK, has been separately  identified and named the 'D Scholia.' These were once thought to have come originally from Didymus, hence their name, but this view is no longer generally accepted. The D Scholia appear on several Byzantine and medieval manuscripts of the Iliad and generally contain information about mythology, the meanings of obscure words and pieces of allegorical interpretation. On the Venetus A the D Scholia appear as interlinear notes written in a semiuncial script and are largely 'glosses,' short defintions of words in the poems. One of the most interesting aspects of the D Scholia is their lemmata, the Homeric passages that a scholion may quote before commenting. In many cases, these lemmata do not match the Homeric text that appears in the manuscript. Thus, these scholia may offer insights into alternative versions of the text, other examples of traditional material that fell out of the common text of the Iliad by the ninth century, but are preserved here and there in brief quotations by the scholiasts, the writers of these marginal notes.

"Still other scholia on our manuscript derive from the work of the scholar and philosopher Porphyry, who lived during the third century CE. Among his writings, many of which had to do with Platonic philosophy, was a treatise entitled 'Homeric Questions' (Ομηικα Ζητηματα, Homerika Zetemata, or in its more commonly given Latin translation, Quaestiones Homericae). This work exists only in a fragmentary state in the Vatican Library (Vaticanus Graecus 305), and the rest of what we know of its contents comes from close reading of various scholia on Homeric manuscripts. Porphyri's work is an example of the late-antique genre of Ζητηματα, which is generally translated 'Questions,' consisting of inquiries into various topics with (often) varying and debatable answers. Ancient works of Ζητηματα covered ethical, legal, and historical topics, and Porphyry's work on Homer is one of the few examples of literary 'Questions,' consisting of inquries into various topics with (often) varying and debatable answers. The scholiastic material that comes from this work is valuable for a number of reasons, although its value has not always been appreciated. For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, scholars dismissed Porphyry as telling us little about Homeric poetry itself, but much about the literary 'parlor games' played by intelligent aristocrats in antiquity. But these scholia preserve some observations on Homeric poetry made by Aristotle and Plato, which in turn can tell us about the particular vocabulary these ancient thinkers used when they discussed epic poetry, and thus much about the ancient experience of listening to this poetry.

"Finally, there are scholia related to a group known as the 'bT' scholia. These get their name from the Townley Manuscript of the Iliad, an eleventh-century codex now in the British Museum (BM, Burney 86); this manuscript is believed to have been one of several copied from an even older manuscript, which is now lost, to which scholars refer by the siglum 'b', hence the 'bT' scholia. These scholia, which may also be derived from the work of Porphyry, offer explanations of thematic matters found in the Iliad, cultural practices, questions of cosmology or theology, and so forth. These scholia have not enjoyed a high reputation among scholars. Their most famous critic, K. Lehrs, said that 'not one word in them is to be believed," (nullum unum verbum iis credendum esse). But more recent students of this material have found them more valuable, suggesting that they offer important insight into how the ancient Greeks understood Homer, but also provide more access to the work of Aristarchus at the Library of Alexandria.

"There is diagreement among scholars as to how and when the VMK was created (proposed dates ranged from the fourth to seventh centuries CE) and whether or not they were created by the same editor. The 20th century scholars most interested in the Homeric scholia believed that the VMK tradition was combined with the D Scholia and the bT Scholia at some time during the eighth century, about two centuries before our nameless scribe produced the elaboratately annotated manuscript we call the Venetus A" (Blackwell & Dué, "Homer and History in the Venetus A," Recapturing a Homeric Legacy. Images and Insights From the Venetus A Manuscript of the Iliad, Dué ed. [2009] 7-9).

How and when Venetus A was transported to Italy is uncertain. At one point it was thought that Giovanni Aurispa brought it there, as in 1424, he mentioned four volumes which he had brought back from Greece in a letter to Ambrogio Traversari in Venice:

Aristarchum super Iliade in duobus voluminibus, opus quoddam spatiosum et pretiosissimum; aliud commentum super Iliade, cuius eundem auctorem esse puto et illius quod ex me Nicolaus noster habuit super Ulixiade.

Aristarchus on the Iliad in two volumes, a large and very precious work; another commentary on the Iliad; I think Aristarchus was the author of that, as well as of the one on the Odyssey that our friend Niccolò Niccoli got from me.

This has been interpretted as a reference to the codices of the Iliad known as Venetus A and B. However, it has also been argued that the two volume commentary referred to was the commentary by the twelfth century Byzantine scholar and archbishop Eustathius of Thessalonica (Laurentianus LIX 2 and 3) attested in Florence a century later in the library of Cardinal Giovanni de' Medici, and now in the Laurentian Library.

Eventually, Venetus A came into the possession of Greek immigrant scholar, and book collector Cardinal Basileios Bessarion (Βασίλειος Βησσαρίων), who collected a library of 482 Greek manuscripts and 264 Latin manuscripts before, and especially after, the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Among Bessarion's library was the only complete text of Athenaios' Deipnosophistai; the autograph of Planudes' Greek Anthology; and Venetus A and B. In 1468 Bessarion donated his library to the Republic of Venice; he continued to add to it until his death in 1472. By preserving so many Greek texts Bessarion became one of those most influential on the revival of Greek literature during the Renaissance. Bessarion's library became the core of the Biblioteca Marciana, which since 1554 has been housed to the building designed for it by Sansovino, the Biblioteca Sansoviniana.

With respect to the study of Venetus A, it is known that Martinus Phileticus used the manuscript as a source in the 1480s, followed by Vettore Fausto in 1546 or 1547. After that, Venetus A was largely forgotten until French philologist Jean-Baptiste-Gaspard d'Ansse de Villoison rediscovered and published it, along with the "B scholia" from Venetus B, in his book Ilias Homeri to Veteris Codicis Veneti fidem-recensita; scholia in eam antiquissima, eodem Code ex nunc primum eruta (Venice, 1788). This was the first publication of any Iliadic scholia other than the "D" scholia (the scholia minora). Because of the complexity of the writing on each page of Venetus A, Villoison's work represented a very impressive work of scholarship and a high level of technical achievement in the printing of Greek. In April 2014 high resolution images of each page in Villoison's 716-page work were available from the Center for Hellenic Studies at Harvard at this link.

Once available to scholars, the A and B scholia were a catalyst for several new ideas from the scholar Friedrich August Wolf. In reviewing Villoison's edition, Wolf realized that these scholia proved conclusively that the Homeric epics had been transmitted orally for an unknown length of time before they were written down. This led to his seminal work, Prolegomena ad Homerum, which set the agenda for much of later Homeric scholarship.

In 1901 Venetus A was reproduced in photographic facsimile as Homeri Ilias cum scholiis. Codex Venetus A, Marcianus 454. Phototypice editus. Praefatus est Dominicus Comparetti, and published in Leiden by A. W. Sijthoff. However, the technology of the time could not reproduce all of the small script in the manuscript legibly.

More than 100 years later, in May 2007 both Venetus A and Venetus B were photographed at high resolution, using a Hasselblad H1 camera with a 39 megapixel Phase One P45 digital back, at the Biblioteca Marciana. The availability of truly legible images of all the text in these manuscripts resulted in insights published in 2009 as Hellenic Studies 35, entitled Recapturing a Homeric Legacy. Images and Insights From the Venetus A Manuscript of the Iliad, edited by Casey Dué, and published by the Center for Hellenic Studies at Harvard. In April 2014 this book was available online from homermultitext.org. Also in April 2014 high resolution images of each page in Venetus A and B were available from the same source at this link.

The Homer Multitext project also made available the Greek texts of Venetus A and B online. The site stated that "This site publishes editions of texts from Byzantine manuscripts using the Canonical Text Services protocol. The service is primarily intended for automated use by other computer programs, but you can follow the links below to to browse and read texts." The site also made available images of individual pages of the Townley Homer. However, in April 2014 a much easier to use digital facsimile of that manuscript was available from the British Library at this link.

 (This entry was last revised on 04-26-2014.)

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The First Western Medical School Circa 950

Though the date of its foundation remains uncertain, the Schola Medica Salernitana in the coastal south Italian city of Salerno, was the first western medical school, representative of both the Greek and Arabic medical traditions. It may have been founded in the early tenth century. Texts representative of both the Greek and Arabic traditions had accumulated in the ancient library of the Abbey of Monte Cassino. Especially as these were translated into Latin, beginning in the 11th century, by physicians and scholars associated with the medical school, the received lore of Hippocrates, Galen and Dioscorides was supplemented and invigorated by Arabic medical practice, known from contacts with Sicily and North Africa. As a result, the medical practitioners of Salerno, both men and women, were unrivalled in the medieval Western Mediterranean.

The school, which found its original base in the dispensary of a monastery founded in the 9th century, reached its greatest fame between the tenth and thirteenth centuries, from the last decades of Lombard power, during which its fame began to spread more than locally, to the fall of the Hohenstaufen. The arrival in Salerno of Constantinus Africanus (Constantine the African) in 1077, marked the beginning of Salerno's classic period.  In the 11th century, through the encouragement of Alfano I, Archbishop of Salerno, who was a translator from the Arabic and a medical doctor himself, and the translations of Constantinus Africanus, Salerno gained the title of "Town of Hippocrates" (Hippocratica civitas or Hippocratica urbs). People from all over the world flocked to the "Schola Salerni", both the sick, in the hope of recovering, and students, to learn the art of medicine.

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The Exeter Book: The Largest Original Collection of Old English Literature Circa 960 – 990

A tenth-century anthology of Anglo-Saxon poetry, the Exeter Book, (Exeter Cathedral Library MS 3501, Codex Exoniensis) is one of the four major Anglo-Saxon literature codices, along with the Vercelli Book, the Nowell Codex and the Junius manuscript. The largest surviving original collection of Old English literature, containing approximately one-sixth of the surviving corpus of Old English verse, it is believed originally to have contained 131 leaves, of which eight original leaves were lost at some point, and replaced with other leaves.

"The precise date when the Exeter Book was compiled and written down is unknown, but it is rightly acknowledged to be one of the great works of the English Benedictine revival of the tenth century, and proposed dates for it range from 960 to 990. This period saw a rise in monastic activity and productivity under the renewed influence of Benedictine principles and standards. At the opening of the period, Dunstan's importance to the Church and to the English kingdom was established, culminating in his appointment to the Archbishopric at Canterbury under Edgar and leading to the monastic reformation by which this era was characterised. Dunstan died in 998, and by the period's close, England under Æthelred faced an increasingly determined Scandinavian incursion, to which it would eventually succumb.

"The Exeter Book's heritage becomes traceable from 1072, when Leofric, Bishop at Exeter, died. Among the treasures which he is recorded to have bestowed in his Will upon the then-impoverished monastery, is one famously described as 'mycel Englisc boc be gehwilcum þingum on leoð-wisan geworht' (i.e., 'a large English book of poetic works about all sorts of things'). This book has been widely assumed to be the Exeter Codex as it survives today.

"Some marginalia were added to the manuscript by Laurence Nowell in the sixteenth century and George Hickes in the seventeenth" (Wikipedia article on Exeter book, accessed 12-24-2013).

During the bishopric of Leofric, the cathedral library at Exeter was the fourth largest in England. Along with the Exeter Book, Leofric bequeathed sixty-five other manuscripts and books to the cathedral—an exceptionally large personal library for the time. Of those, about twenty remain extant.

"Three versions of the donation list drawn up by Leofric survive, which is one of the earliest surviving cathedral library catalogues. The list consists of 31 books used to conduct cathedral services, 24 other ecclesiastical works, and 11 works that were secular. This last group included philosophical works as well as poetry.... Besides the Exeter Book and the Leofric Missal, Leofric's own copy of the Rule of Chrodegang also survives, although it is no longer at Exeter. Now it is at Cambridge University, where it is Corpus Christi College MS 191. Another surviving manuscript from Leofric's collection is a Gospel book written in Latin now in the Bodleian Library, which was probably acquired by Leofric while he was on the continent, as the manuscript was originally written for a Breton monastery" (Wikipedia article on Leofric (bishop), accessed 12-24-2013).

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A Vast Library at Cordoba in Al-Andalus Circa 961 – 976

A map of the Caliphate of Cordoba circa 1000CE. (View Larger)

Al-Hakam II, the Caliph of Cordoba in Al-Andalus (Moorish Iberia), was fond of books and learning, and amassed a vast library that may possibly have contained over 400,000 books, though this number cannot be substantiated, and may well be far greater than what was actually held in the library. During his reign a massive translation effort was undertaken, and many books were translated from Latin and Greek into Arabic. For this project he formed a joint committee of Arab Muslims and Iberian Mozarab Christians.

The catalogue of the royal library "alone consisted of forty-four volumes. Under Al-Haim II (961-976) this library was reported to have given employment to over 500 people. . . . Elsewhere at Moslem Spain there was a total of seventy libraries in the 10th century, several in Toledo. In addition to the royal library, these included libraries in universities in Cordoba, Seville, Malaga, and Granada , among others, and in numerous mosques. Private libraries flourished in Moslem Spain, and it was said that Cordoba was the greatest book market in the western world in the 10th century" (Harris, History of Libraries in the Western World 4th ed [1999] 81).

(This entry was last revised on 03-16-2014.)

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1000 – 1100

The Earliest Extant Complete Text of the Bible in Hebrew Circa 1010

Cover page E, folio 474a, of the Leningrad Codex. (View Larger)

The Leningrad Codex, probably written in Cairo about the year 1010, is the earliest extant complete text of the Bible in Hebrew. It has been preserved in St. Petersburg since the mid-19th century, and is now housed in the Russian National Library.

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Perhaps the Earliest Recycling of Paper 1031

"With the decline of the whole central administration [in Japan] during the Heian period the Zushoryo [the first national library of Japan in Nara] ceased to have such extensive importance and the slave-like guild of papermakers, which had heretofore been kept apart from their contemporaries, gradually merged with the common people and it was not long before the entire Imperial staff was reduced in number and talent. Because of the absence of materials, paper, and skilled workers, the owners of private estates began the erection of small paper mills and they endeavoured to induce the former Zushoryo papermakers to resume their work for them in the fabrication of paper. Up to this time about the only materials used for the making of paper in Japan were the mulberry, gampi (Wikstroemia canescens), and hemp (Cannabis sativa), but as early as 1031 it was recorded that waste paper became a useful material for remaking into sheets of paper. The Chinese, no doubt, had used the method of reclaiming material much earlier, and inasmuch as the Japanese received nearly all of their ideas from China it is reasonable to surmise that there was no exception in this instance. In Japan the remade paper became the sole commodity of the paper-shops (kamiya) and was known by the name of kamiya-gami, literally paper-shop paper. The reclaimed material used in the making of the kamiya-gami was charged with ink and pigment and therefore the paper manufactured from the used material was of a grey tone. It has been stated that even books from the Imperial Library were macerated into pulp to be formed into sheets of the shukushi paper, always of a dull colour due to the writing on the paper from which it was fabricated" (Dard Hunter, Papermaking: The History and Technique of an Ancient Craft, 2nd ed, 1957, 54).

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"About 100,000 handwritten Hebrew codices and their remains have survived...." Circa 1050

".... Despite the adoption of the spoken languages of their host societies in everyday life – the wide use of Greek by Hellenized Jews in late antiquity, the extensive employment of Arabic as the main written language in countries under Muslim rule, and later, to a much lesser extent, the application of European vernacular languages in their literature, the Jews have always remained loyal to their own script. Jews have adhered to their Semitic national writing, rendering in it not only epigraphic writings, literary texts and documents written in the Hebrew language, but also other borrowed languages, including the European ones, in transcription. Learned Jews in medieval Christian Europe apparently never employed the Latin script, nor did they use the Latin language in Hebrew transcription. On the other hand, since the eleventh century Jews did employ occasionally and in the late Middle Ages more extensively, the vernacular languages of their environments, transcribing them in Hebrew characters. Old French, Provençal, Catalan, Castilian, Spanish and, of course, Italian, Greek and particularly German were assimilated by the Jews and incorporated into their Hebrew written texts, but always rendered in Hebrew transcription.

"Thus, Jews in the East and the West, and since the ninth century rather exclusively, utilised the Hebrew script for written communication, documentation, legal proceedings and particularly for writing their literature and disseminating it, mainly in Hebrew, but also in other languages, especially Arabic. This remarkable phenomenon, together with the vast territorial dispersion of the Jews, turned a minor marginal script and book craft into a culturally rather major one. From the viewpoint of extent and diffusion, the Hebrew script was employed in the Middle Ages over a larger territorial range than the Greek, Latin or Arabic scripts, as Hebrew manuscripts and documents were produced within and across all these and other script zones.

"This marginal Hebrew script and book craft naturally encompassed diversified regional shapes, types and styles of the common script, book technology and the scribal practices involved in its production. Medieval Hebrew books shared the same script, but were divided by different geo-cultural traditions of fabrication, design and writing modes, strongly influenced by contacts with local non-Jewish values and practices and by the Latin and Arabic scripts. Hebrew manuscripts indeed present a solid diversity of well-differentiated script types, techniques and scribal practices, moulded by the different places where they were made.

"About 100,000 handwritten Hebrew codices and their remains have survived to this day. They are kept in some six hundred national, state, public, municipal, university and monastic libraries and private collections all over the world. Some 300,000 fragments of medieval manuscripts were preserved in the Cairo Genizah, a store room for worn-out books in a synagogue in old Cairo. In addition, numerous remains of re-used bisected medieval European Hebrew manuscripts have been and still are being recovered from the binding covers books in many European collections.

"Among the hundreds of collections of surviving Hebrew manuscripts in the world, only the collections of some dozen libraries are regarded as major collections, both in quantity, by containing at least several hundred manuscripts, and in quality, by having important and rare copies in all the areas of Jewish textual creativity and old, precious and aesthetically designed written books. Those collections are found in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, the Vatican Library, the Biblioteca Palatina in Parma, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York, the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris, the Russian National Library in St. Petersburg, the Russian State Library in Moscow, the National Library in Jerusalem, the British Library in London, the Oriental Institute of the Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg, Cambridge University Library and the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin.

"It may seem rather paradoxical that the extant Hebrew manuscripts which have mostly survived from Christian countries, while escaping mass expulsions and persecutions, were saved mainly by European libraries which purchased them, preserved, conserved and kept them accessible for students and scholars. These Christian institutions became guardians of Jewish literary heritage, like the Bodleian Library and Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana" (Malachi Beit-Arié, "Hebrew Manuscripts," http://bav.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/hebrew-manuscripts, accessed 12-08-2013). 

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Destruction of the 200,000 Volume Palace Library at Cairo 1068

The sacking of Cairo in 1068 resulted in the destruction of its 200,000 volume Palace Library.

Harris, History of Libraries in the Western World, 4th ed. [1999] 80.

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1100 – 1200

The Design and Operation of Medieval Libraries Circa 1150

"Once libraries had outgrown the cupboards or chests of earlier times, a separate library room became a common feature from the 12th century onward. The arrangement of a typical later medieval library is known from some surviving examples, although the fittings in all of them have been altered over the centuries. In general the room would be long and fairly narrow, built on the second floor to protect against damp and give adequate light. Ranged along the walls between the windows and projecting at right angles from them would be long lecterns for reading the books. The books themselves would lie flat on shelves underneath the lecterns, to which the reader (standing up) would bring them on chains. There was often a written shelf list affixed to the end of each lectern to show what books were on the shelves. This would be, in effect, an extract of the catalog, which continued to reflect the actual physical grouping of the codices. The common libraries of convents and colleges would usually be kept locked, the key in possession of the librarian, who could variously be called the armarius, cantor or precentor, librarius, custos librorum, or bibliothecarius. The position and duties of the librarius were laid down in some detail by Humbert of Romans, general of the Dominicans, in his Instructiones officialium from around 1260. and these were often adapted and expanded in later library regulations. Not all the books in an institution were chained; It was the custom in colleges and friaries, as it was earlier and continued to be in monasteries, to make an annual distribution of books to fellows, brothers, or monks for their learned or edifying reading. These loans could on occasion stretch out over many years, or even a lifetime" (M. Davies, "Medieval Libraries" in D. Stam (ed.) International Dictionary of Library Histories [2001] 107).

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Filed under: Libraries

Norman Crusaders Take Manuscripts as Spoils of War 1175

In 1175 Norman Crusaders overan the Greek peninsula and took manuscripts as spoils of war. "When Michael Acominatus became Archibshop of Athens in 1275 he noted that the city had no libraries at all, and that his two chests of books constituted the largest collection of literature in the city" (Harris, History of Libraries in the Western World 4th ed [1999] 75).

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Early Autograph Draft of Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed Circa 1185 – 1190

T-S_10Ka4.1,r: a page from an early autograph draft of Maimonides's 'Guide for the Perplexed.' (View Larger)

About 1185-1190 Moses Maimonides, rabbi, physician, and philosopher in Spain, Morocco and Egypt, wrote the Guide for the Perplexed, of which an early autograph draft is preserved in the Taylor-Schechter Cairo Genizah collection at Cambridge University Library, gathered from the Genizah of the Ben Ezra Synagogue Old Cairo, along with several other autograph manuscripts and fragments by Maimonides.

Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed, thought to have been completed by 1190,

"is the main source of the Rambam's philosophical views, as opposed to his opinions on Jewish law. Since many of the philosophical concepts, such as his view of theodicy and the relationship between philosophy and religion, are relevant beyond strictly Jewish theology, it has been the work most commonly associated with Maimonides in the non-Jewish world and it is known to have influenced several major non-Jewish philosophers. . . . Within Judaism, the Guide became widely popular and controversial, with many Jewish communities requesting copies of the manuscript."

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1200 – 1300

Beginnings of an Active Book Trade in Europe Outside of Monasteries Circa 1200

Detail of image depicting a monk at work in a medieval scriptorium (Lacroix).  Please click to view entire image.

Detail of a fourteenth century image showing Henry of Germany delivering a lecture to University Students in Bologna by Laurentius de Voltolina in the Liber ethicorum des Henricus de Alemannia, preserved in the Kupferstichkabinett SMPK, Staatliche Museen, Pressiischer Kulturbesitz, Min. 1233. 

Please click to view entire image.

Beginning around the year 1200, monasteries no longer remained the only purchasers of books in Europe, and manuscript book production started moving from the exclusive domain of monastic scriptoria to the secular communities. Intellectual life began to be increasingly centered outside the monasteries at the universities. There scholars, teachers and students, in cooperation with booksellers, artisans and craftsmen, organized an active manuscript book trade.

By the second quarter of the 13th century a much expanded demand for books for individual use encouraged the production of increasing numbers of picture books. Illustrated accounts of the lives of popular saints and other historical characters were typical productions.

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Private Libraries in the Muslim World, Destroyed or Plundered by Crusaders Circa 1200

"So numerous were the private libraries [in the Muslim world] that one writer has estimated that, as of 1200, there were more books in private hands in the Moslem world than in all libraries, public and private, of western Europe." (Harris, History of Libraries in the Western World 4th ed [1999] 81.)

"Not the least important in the destruction of Islamic libraries were the depredations of the Christian crusaders from the 11th to the 13th centuries. In Syria, Palestine, and parts of North Africa, the Christians destroyed libraries as enthusiastically as had the barbarians in Italy a few hundred years earlier. When Spain was reconquered from the Arabs, the great Islamic libraries at Seville, Cordoba, and Granada were destroyed or carried away by their retreating owners." (Harris 84).

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Knowledge of Greek and Greek Texts During the Middle Ages Circa 1200 – 1450

"Not before the fifteenth century were there large collections of Greek manuscripts assembled in the West, and only from the sixteenth century on were they used by a substantial number of Western scholars and other interested parties. The greater portion of the Greek inventory of the Dominican Library in Basel, the Laurentiana in Florence, the Marciana in Venice, the Vaticana in Rome, the Hapsburg Hofbibliothek in Vienna, and the Bibliothèque du Roi in Paris was first brought together through the combined efforts of Greek emigrants, Latin Humanists, and bibliophile princes. Yet ancient Greek book collections were not inaccessible to the Latin Middle Ages. Greek monasteries, none of which could have been completely without books, flourished in Rome from the seventh to the eleventh century. Grottaferrata has preserved parts of its ancient hoard of Greek books even up to the present day.

"There were populous Latin districts in Constantinople during the high Middle Ages, and in this period a great number of Italian scholars lived in the Christian metropolis on the Bosporus and made use of the rare-book libraries of the city. Moses of Bergamo was one of these scholarly Italians in twelfth-century Constantinople; he is the first Westerner known to have collected Greek manuscripts in great volume. If his own testimony is true, then the hunt for Greek manuscripts began two centuries before Guarino of Verona and Giovanni Aurispa.

"The Greek libraries of southern Italy were even closer to the Latins than those in Constantinople. Casole in Apulia, Carbone in the Basilicata, Stilo in Calabria, and Messina in Sicily had the most notable monastic libraries of the Italo-Greeks; the Cathedral Library of Rossano is still in possession of its cimelia, the famous sixth-century Greek purple evangelary ('Codex purpureus Rossanensis'), which was not 'rediscovered' there by scholars until 1879 and which recalls the significance of southern Italy for the transmission of Greek texts.

"Not before the manuscript research of recent years has the astonishing volume and the high quality (manuscripts of the classics!) of Italo-Greek book production and transmission come to light. Manuscript by manuscript, a 'translatio studii' from Byzantium to the West appears, whose line of textual transmission threads its way directly from the Macedonian Renaissance in tenth-century Constantinople, to the court library of the Norman and Hohenstaufen rulers of southern Italy, to the papal library of 1300; the Italian Renaissance picked up this thread as its starting point.

"This hoard of Greek books first appears in 1295 at the end of a catalogue of the papal library:

'Item Dyonisius super celesticam [!] Ierarchicam [!] in greco. Item Simplicius super phisicam Aristotilis . . .'

"With the exception of Dionysius the Areopagite (characteristically placed at the beginning of the list) and one other work, the twenty-three volumes all contain works of natural science and philosophy—a remarkable collection for the papacy (ed. A. Pelzer, Addenda et emendanda ad Francisci Ehrle Historiae Bibliothecae Romanorum Pontificum ... tomum 1 [Rome 1947], pp. 23 f).

"A catalogue of the papal library from 1311 lists the same stock of Greek books:

'tem libri, qui sequuntur scripti in greco: primo scripsimus comentum Procli Permenidem Platonis 'And' et est in papiro . . . .'

"There have been several changes. In all there are now thirty-three Greek codices; ed. F. Ehrle, Historia Bibliothecae Romanorum Pontificum tum Bonifatianae tum Avenionensis (Rome 1890), I, 95-99. In nineteen of these books one finds this remarkable 'And', for which Ehrle provides the hardly convincing resolution antiquus.

"We learn from an inventory of 1327 that the thirty-three Greek codices were kept in two crates; ed. Pelzer, Addenda et emendanda, p. 34. In 1339 they (all of them?) are found in a single crate together with Hebrew books (ibid., p.64); in 1369 there are still seven Greek books in the papal library (cf. Ehrle, Historia Bibliothecae, pp. 376 [no. 1183], 398 [no. 1512], 429 [no. 2007]. The popes obviously managed to carelessly lose their small but fine Greek collection during their Avignon adventures.

"The enigma of the notation And in the catalogue of 1311 has been solved by August Pelzer in a striking way (Addenda et emendanda, pp. 92 f.): it is to be resolved Andegavensis = Anjou! -that is, these books came to the papal library 'from Anjou.' When did the house of Anjou have cause and opportunity to present the papacy with a collection of Greek books? Pelzer answers: after the battle near Benevento (1266), when Charles of Anjou, whom the papacy had summoned to southern Italy, had disposed of the hated Hohenstaufen King Manfred. Thus the core of the Greek collection of the Norman-Staufer court library came into the possession of the papacy in 1266 in a similar way to that by which the Heidelberg Bibliotheca Palatina did in 1623.

"Codicological research has confirmed Pelzer's brilliant conclusions. Nine of the thirty-three Greek books of the 1311 catalogue have now again been identified, and the findings demonstrate clearly that this could not have been a casual acquisition by the popes or by Anjou, nor was it plunder from the conquest of Constantinople in 1204.; rather the collection came from the court in Constantinople to the court in Palermo around the middle of the twelfth century:

'Ces volumes sont de magnifiques produits des ateliers constantinopolitains au moment de la renaissance scientifique et philosophique des IXe et Xe siècles" ('These volumes are the magnificent products of the ateliers in Constantinople at the moment of the scientific and philosophical renaissance of the ninth and tenth centuries;' (P. Canart, "Le livre grec,' p. 149).

"Almost half of all known scientific 'classical manuscripts' of the Byzantine Renaissance of the ninth/tenth century have been preserved via the Norman-Staufer court library (G. Derenzini, 'All origine della traduzione di opere scientifiche classiche: vicende di testi et di codici tra Bisanzio e Palermo,' Physis 18 [1976], 87-103). Thus the history of the Greek court library in the West extends back into the twelfth century, and the Greek collections in Renaissance court libraries in the West were then not altogether without precedents.

"In the outstanding monastic and cathedral libraries of the Middle Ages, there were, however, at most only scattered Greek manuscripts. The Abbey of St. Martin in Tours possessed, at least in fragments, a Greek papyrus codex from Egypt, which contained a homily of Ephraem Syrus on 'Fair Joseph.' An illuminated Greek copy of the XPICΤΙΑΝΙΚΗ ΤΟΠΟΓΡΑΦΙΑ of Cosmas Indicopleustes has been traced to the collection of the early medieval Cathedral Library in York. Reichenau had a precious Greek Psalter from the eighth to the sixteenth century. The Abbey of St. Denis tended the splendid uncial manuscript of the works of Dionysius the Areopagite which Louis the Pious had obtained from Constantinople; various other Greek manuscripts were added in the high and late Middle Ages. In the monastery of St. Simeon, established in the Porta Nigra in Trier, there was a Greek lectionary of the tenth/eleventh century. In the midst of the Investiture Controversy, the wealthy and ostentatious canons of St. Gereon in Cologne procured a magnificent Greek Psalter, which was written and illuminated around 1077 in a scriptorium closely connected with the Greek emperor. The first illumination, by a Greek artist, shows Ο ΑΓΙΟC ΜΑΡΤΥC ΤΟΥ ΧΡΙCΤΟΥ ΓΕΡΕΩΝ.

"Μany other large libraries of the Middle Ages also had their Greek showpieces to exhibit. Occasionally, the Latin West also produced manuscripts entirely in Greek. In the ninth century, as Montfaucon has noted, Sedulius Scottus was capable of writing a Greek Psalter with odes.

"From the Ottonian period on, Greco-Italian southern Italy offered the opportunity to obtain scribes who were acquainted with the Greek alphabet. A lectionary written in 1021 by an Italo-Greek Εν χόρα Φραγκίας κάστρο δε Κoλoνίας (= Cologne?) later made its way to St. Denis. In England even Western scribes ventured to produce various Greek minuscule manuscripts. According to Μ.R. James, the Greek Psalter of Cambridge, Emmanuel College III. 3. 22 is of English origin.

"In the thirteenth century, Bishop Robert Grosseteste commissioned a large-scale Corpus Dionysiacum in Greek minuscules. Grosseteste, his students, and his assistants brought together, by means of purchasing and copying, a significant collection of Greek manuscripts in England, so that it is true, at least for this country, that interest in Greek books had already arisen in the late Middle Ages; to be sure, it was a narrow circle until Humanism created a broader audience for the purely Greek book.

"The typical medieval form of the Greek codex was the bilingual manuscript. It was an inheritance from late antiquity and the Middle Ages in part made good use of it. The Mediterranean cultural symbiosis of the late Roman Empire had brought forth many such bilinguals-Latino-Greek and Greco-Latin. The most famous examples of late antique Latino-Greek editions are the remnants of the bilingual Vergil codices, recovered from the Egyptian sand; thus far, no less than nine such bilinguals of the champion of the imperial Roman cause have been brought to light. During Justinian's time, it was certainly still possible to write codices in both imperial languages in Constantinople; the Florentine digest codex ('Codex Pisanus,' soon after 533) bears impressive witness to this fact. It seems, however, that the Byzantine Empire of the medieval period proper no longer fostered bilingual editions of Roman authors, and—if southern Italy is excluded—produced no Latino-Greek manuscripts at all. 

"A Greco-Latin Homer, the counterpart of a Latino-Greek Vergil, apparently did not exist in late antiquity. The West was interested in Christian bilinguals, in Greco-Latin editions of portions of the Bible; a Greco-Latin anthology of canon law may have also existed during late antiquity, at least in one copy.

"The Latin Middle Ages carried on the tradition of assorted scriptural bilinguals: the Psalter, Gospels, Pauline epistles, and Acts of the Apostles (in fact those four books of the Bible whose comparative study Ambrogio Traversari recommended for self-instruction in Greek!). It would have been easy for the bilingual tradition of the Acts of the Apostles to have disappeared, as other bilingual scriptural texts must have: the tradition has only two witnesses-the 'Codex Bezae' in Cambridge and the 'Codex Laudianus' in Oxford.

"The Carolingian period transmitted only the Psalter, Gospels, and Pauline epistles, to some extent in the new interlinear bilingual form, which was especially cultivated by the Irish.

"In the Ottonian period, the bilingual tradition of the Pauline epistles dies out. The fragmentary 'Codex Waldeccensis' (saec. X ex. ) completes the circle of this bilingual tradition of the Middle Ages, in which the beginning and end are joined; for this bilingual manuscript, the last of the Pauline epistles known from the Middle Ages, is an exact copy of the earliest manuscript—the 'Codex Claromontanus.'

"The production of bilingual texts of the Gospels is extraordinarily rare in the high and late Middle Ages. Yet a bilingual edition of the Apocalypse curiously surfaces at that period. The Greco-Latin Psalter reached the age of Humanism, however, in an unbroken tradition. This Greco-Latin text outlasted all else because it was the text with which the Latin Middle Ages was doubtless most intimately familiar and was thus better suited than any other text to introduce the Latins to a basic study of Greek. This tradition of the Greco-Latin Psalter manuscripts, which span the entire Middle Ages, from the Cod. Verona I (saec. VI- VII) to the Cod. Plut. XVII 13 of the Biblioteca Laurenziana (which was "erst wenige Jahre alt, als in Florenz das große Unionskonzil begann" ["only a few years old as the great Union Council began in Florence"]), and to the great trilingual (Hebreo-Greco-Latin) Psalter produced for Duke Federigo of Urbino in Florence in 1473,  presents scarcely touched material for the further investigation of Greek studies in the Latin Middle Ages.

"The Greek text is presented in various manners in these Psalters: in Greek script (generally majuscule) or in Roman transcription; the Greek and Latin texts on facing pages, in parallel columns, or arranged interlinearly. The base text (left page, left column, or principal line in interlinear versions) is generally Greek. The Psalters in which the Greek text is presented only in Roman transcription must have originally served primarily liturgical purposes: Greek liturgica were always written in the Roman alphabet in the West, since they were to be read or sung aloud and were not intended to be studied. On the other hand, manuscripts with the Greek text written in Greek script were textbooks or even showpieces. The possibilities for combination are numerous and the distinctions between them fluid: even such an obvious example of a textbook as the St. Gall psalterium quadrupartitum presented the Greek text only in Roman transcription. In general, each of the numerous bilingual Psalters of the Middle Ages requires its own particular historico-philological interpretation.

"The other Greco-Latin books of the Middle Ages may be regarded as offshoots from the main trunk of bilingual biblical texts: in the sixth century, bilinguals of the first four ecumenical councils by Dionysius Exiguus; in the eleventh century, Gregory's Dialogi; in the thirteenth century, the liturgical and polemical bilinguals of Abbot Nicholas-Nectarius of Otranto. The Dominican mission in the 'Orient' continued this latter tradition and produced its controversial theological tracts in bilingual editions ('Bartholomaeus, Contra Graecos; Buonaccorsi, Thesaurus veritatis fidei). Leontius Pilatus' translations of Homer and Euripides for the early Florentine Humanists were designed as interlinear bilinguals.

"Finally, one must not forget the striking bilingualism of the imperial correspondence from Constantinople, of which a number of splendid examples from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries have been preserved in Italian archives. When the corpus of manuscripts has finally been fully catalogued, the history of the Greco-Latin bilinguals will open one of the most informative perspectives on the ever-shifting interest in Greek texts that has perished through the ages" (Walter Berschin, "Valuation and Knowledge of Greek," Greek Letters and the Latin Middle Ages. From Jerome to Nicholas of Cusa. Transl. by Jerold C. Frakes [1992]).

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The Magna Carta is Promulgated and Distributed January 1215 – 1217

A 1297 copy of the Magna Carta. (View Larger)

In January 1215 a group of English barons demanded a charter of liberties and protection against arbitrary behavior by King John. Receiving no satisfaction, in May the barons took up up arms and captured London. To resolve the dispute on June 10 both parties met and held negotiations at Runnymede, a meadow by the River Thames. Concessions made by King John were outlined in a document known as the "Articles of the Barons", to which the King's great seal was attached, and on June 19 the barons renewed their oaths of allegiance to the King. At the same time the royal chancery produced a formal royal grant, based on the agreements reached at Runnymede, which became known as Magna Carta (Great Charter).

According to contemporary chronicles, copies were sent out from the royal chancery to bishops, sheriffs and others throughout the land; however, the exact number of copies distributed is unknown. Four copies of the original Magna Carta grant survive: two from the library of Sir Robert Bruce Cotton are preserved in the British Library., and others in the archives of Lincoln Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral. On February 2, 2015 all four of the original copies of the Magna Carta were united for the first time for an exhibition at the British Library.

In 1217 the Magna Carta was officially published with changes and distributed throughout the kingdom. Of those published copies 17 survive, of which 4 are preserved in the Bodleian Library Oxford:

The original text of Magna Carta was first printed from one of the Cottonian copies roughly 500 years later, in 1733, perhaps to safeguard the text. In 1731 one of Cotton's copies had been damaged in a fire which destroyed other manuscripts from Cotton's library then stored at Ashburnham House. The first edition of 1733 was engraved and printed on vellum as a facsimile of the original by John Pine, an engraver and publisher of prints and illustrated books.

In July 2014 a virtual copy of Magna Carta was available from the British Library at this link.

(This entry was last revised on 02-05-2015.)

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The Greatest Destruction of Muslim Libraries 1218 – 1220

A bust of Genghis Khan. (View Larger)

"The greatest destruction [of Muslim libraries] resulted from the raids of the Mongols in the 13th century. From the mountains and steppes of central Asia came the hordes of Genghis Khan, conquering and destroying everything before them. In the first great sweep to the Caspian Sea and northern Persia, the cities of Bokhara [Bukhara], Samarkand, and Merv [and their libraries] were destroyed along with many smaller towns. . . . (Harris, History of Libraries in the Western World 4th ed [1999] 84-85).

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No Fewer than Twelve Libraries Available to the Public in Merv 1228

The Greater Kyz Kala at Merv, presumed to be the residence of a noble or royal personage. (View Larger)

In 1228 the geographer Yakut al-Hamawi, visiting Merv, a major oasis-city in Central Asia, on the Silk Road, located near today's Mary in Turkmenistan, "found no fewer than twelve libraries there available to the public. Ten were endowed libraries and two were in mosques. One had over 12,000 volumes in codex form and another had been in existence since 494 A.D. Yakut noted that the lending policies of the libraries in Merv were so liberal that he was able to have 200 volumes to work with in his rooms at one time." (Harris, History of Libraries in the Western World 4th ed [1999] 79).

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The Vatican Archives Follow the Movements of the Pope 1245 – 1783

". . .during the Middle Ages, particularly after Innocent IV (1243-1254), the popes moved around a great deal. In 1245, Innocent IV is known to have taken a part of the archives with him to the Council of Lyon, after which the records remained for a while stored in the monastery at Cluny. Benedict XI (1303-1304) had the archives placed in Perugia. Clement V (1305-1314) then had the archives placed in Assisi where they remained until 1339, when Benedict XII (1334-1342) had them sent to Avignon.

"The archives remained in Avignon during the time of the Great Schism. Once the difficulties were resolved, Martin V (1427-1431) had the records transported by boat and wagon to Rome, where they were temporarily housed in S. Maria Sopra Minerva then established in his family palace (Colonna) in central Rome. Though important historical records were returned to Rome at this time, including the Vatican Registers, the Avignon material, the paper registers known as the Avignon Registers, were not incorporated into the ASV until 1783" (Blouin, Jr., Vatican Archives: An Inventory and Guide. . . [1998] xviii).

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Formation of the University of Paris 1257

Robert de Sorbon, founder of the University of Paris. (View Larger)

In 1257 Robert de Sorbon, a chaplain and confessor to King Louis IX, founded the Collège de Sorbonne, or University of Paris. Starting with 20 theology students, and virtually no library except a small collection of manuscripts, the college quickly built a prodigious reputation as a center for learning, and rapidly expanded its library mainly through donations, including the library of Robert de Douai, physician to Queen Marguerite. In Robert's will dated 1258 he left to the college 1500 pounds Parisian, and bequeathed " 'omnes libros meos de theologia, tam biblias, tam originalia, quam alios libros glosatos' which came to the Sorbonne four years later" (Rouse & Rouse, "The Early Library of the Sorbonne," Authentic Witnesses: Approaches to Medieval Texts and Manuscripts [1991] 346).  

By the end of the thirteenth century there were as many as twenty thousand foreign students resident in Paris, making Paris the capital of knowledge of the Western world.

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So Many Books were Thrown into the Tigris River that they Formed a Bridge that Would Support a Man on Horseback 1258

Hulagu Khan with his wife, Dokuz Kathun. (View Larger)

In 1258 Mongols under the command of Hulagu Khan sacked Baghdad, destroying the House of Wisdom, the leading library in the leading intellectual center of the Arab world.

The House of Wisdom, founded in the eighth century, contained countless precious documents accumulated over five hundred years. Survivors said so many books were thrown into the river that the waters of the Tigris ran black with ink; others said the waters were red from blood.

"In one week, libraries and their treasures that had been accumulated over hundreds of years were burned or otherwise destroyed. So many books were thrown into the Tigris River, according to one writer, that they formed a bridge that would support a man on horseback" (Harris, History of Libraries in the Western World 4th ed [1999] 85).

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The Arrangement and Cataloguing of Books Circa 1270

Humbert de Romans, Dominican scholar who promulgated the notion of arranging books by subject matter.

"The arrangement and cataloguing of books within the individual colleges and other university institutions were also influenced by the changes in book usage reflected in the union catalogs and location lists. In monastic institutions, book collections had traditionally been kept in book chests or armaria — though the individual volumes themselves doubtless were, for much of the time, parceled out among the members of the house. We find, however, in the writings of the Dominican Humbert of Romans, about 1270, instructions that books in the armaria should be physically arranged by subject matter, and that certain ones of them should be chained at lecterns for the common use of all, rather than being either locked away in a chest or loaned for the use of only one person. Before the end of the thirteenth century, both the Collège de Sorbonne in Paris and University College in Oxford had such a collection of chained books attached to reading benches. Early in the next century, about 1320, a member of the Sorbonne compiled a subject catalog of the hundreds of individual texts bound together in some three hundred chained codexes of his college. This development — arrangement of manuscripts by subject matter, affixing chains to selected books, an index of the content of a whole collection — corresponds in its way, in both purpose and inguenuity, to the making of concordances, distinction collections, subject indexes, and union catalogs; and it is in such a context that it should be considered. The common goal of all these devices was to facilitate access to desired information" (Rouse & Rouse, Authentic Witnesses: Approaches to Medieval Texts and Manuscripts [1991] 238-39).

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Foundation of the Library of the Sorbonne, and "Perhaps the Earliest Specific and Organized System of Book Arrangement in a Library" 1271

From a late 14th century copy of Richard de Fournival's 'Biblionomia.' A catalog of the section on philosophy, in which books are described by their dimensions. (View Larger)

In 1271 theologian Gerard d' Abbeville, a Parisian master and neighbor of Robert de Sorbon, bequeathed nearly 300 volumes of manuscripts to the Library of the Sorbonne. This gift became the core of the Sorbonne Library, and of the roughly 300 original volumes, 118 remain preserved in the Bibliothèque nationale de France today. d'Abbeville's bequest incorporated the library of Richard de Fournival, author of the library catalogue entitled Biblionomia. In his history of the manuscript collections from which the Bibliothèque nationale was formed, Le cabinet des manuscrits de la Bibliothèque Impériale, Leopold Delisle characterized this catalogue as "one of the most curious monuments of the bibliographic art of the Middle Ages. The only manuscript which has survived of this small work is 'très-incorrect', and cannot be dated before the beginning of the 15th century. Having belonged to the Collège des Cholets, it is today part of the library of the Université de France at the Sorbonne...." (translation mine, from 518-19).

According to Delisle, Fournival used a garden metaphor to describe his library, in which the various branches of knowledge each have their plot, but beyond the metaphor Fournival described a specific classification scheme, coordinating desk or shelf letters or numbers with different kinds of letters and colors of letters. The first division of the library was devoted to philosophy, which Fournival further broke down into nine categories on eleven shelves, arranged partly according to volume size:

1. Grammar

2. Dialectic

3. Rhetoric

4. Geometry and Arithmetic

5. Music and Astronomy

6. Physics and Metaphysics

7. Metaphysics and Morals

8. Melanges of Philosophy

9. Poetry

The second division of Fournival's Biblionomia was devoted to what Delisle calls "sciences lucratives"--medicine, civil law and canon law.

The third division of the library was theology, i.e. texts and commentaries on the Holy Scriptures and writings of the fathers of the church.

Fournival's Biblionomia is "Perhaps the earliest specific and organized system of book arrangement in a library" (M. Davies, "Medieval Libraries,"  Stam (ed.) International Dictionary of Library Histories I [2001] 107).

Delisle pointed out that even though Fournival described the exact content of books in 162 volumes it is difficult to say for sure whether these volumes were ever assembled outside of Fournival's imagination. However, whether imaginary or not, Deslisle felt that the Biblionomia was "rich in valuable information for literary history" and he reprinted the Latin text of Biblionomia in Le cabinet des manuscrits de la Bibliothèque Impériale II (1874) 518-535.

According to the Wikipedia article on Fournival, 35 manuscripts from his library remain preserved in various libraries, which would indicate that Fournival owned at least a portion of the works that he described in Biblionomia.

Ullman, The Library of the Sorbonne in the Fourteenth Century. The Septicentennial Celebration of the Founding of the Sorbonne College in the University of Paris. [1953] 38-39.

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"The World's Oldest Continuously Functioning Library for University Academics and Students" 1276

The Merton College Library, at Oxford. (View Larger)

The library of Merton College, Oxford, which calls itself the "the world’s oldest continuously functioning library for university academics and students" traces it origins to 1276:

"The provision of books and their storage feature in College records from 1276, when Robert Kilwardby (Archbishop of Canterbury) directed that any books that Fellows brought with them to the College, or acquired during residence, should remain at Merton. The books were to be kept in a chest under three locks, and to be assigned by the Warden and Sub-Warden to the use of the Fellows against a pledge. Later, there were two collections of books: one was kept chained in libraria (the earliest form of chaining dates from 1284), the other was a circulating library. It is not known where the first chained library was located, but repairs were needed in 1338 and it had to be plastered and whitewashed in 1346" (http://www.merton.ox.ac.uk/aboutmerton/library8.shtml)

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Probably the Largest Medieval Library in Europe 1289 – 1338

The library of the Université de Paris, one of the best in Europe, was organized during this year into two collections: the magna libraria in which the most frequently used books were chained and made available for general use for teaching and course work, and the parva libraria which contained duplicates, and more specialized works needed for research. The library included 1017 books in 1289.

This information comes from a catalogue of the library written in 1338 which incorporated a catalogue of the library written in 1290, of which only two leaves partially survived as pastedowns.

"The importance of the establishment of a chained library, in the broader picture, is that it established a place where books were not merely kept but where they were used, and used in common. This change at the Sorbonne in 1289-92 is part of a general trend to divide collections, which appears in Europe at the end of the thirteenth and continues through the fourteenth century. Institutions began to divide their collections by causing certain commonly used works to be chained so that these would always be available to their members, while at the same time continuing to provide for the individual needs of their members and outsiders through a circulating collection. The Sorbonne probably provides the earliest clear example of this change taking place" (Rouse & Rouse, "The Early Library of the Sorbonne," Authentic Witnesses: Approaches to Medieval Texts and Manuscripts [1991] 364, and 343, 352, reproducing a leaf of the 1290 catalogue as plate 8).

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Organization of the Sorbonne Library, and the Way it Was Physically Arranged 1290

"We have seen that the first catalog of the college [The Sorbonne] was classified; the text of the 1290 catalog provides a full view of this classification system. It was a system common to the intellectual world of the thirteenth century, namely, the Scriptures, glossed and postillated books; Peter Lombard's Sentences, and questions and summas on the Sentences, whole works on the saints and doctors of the Church; questions and distinctions of the master; and whole works of the ancient philosophers, followed by works outside the realm of theology and philosophy — medicine, the quadrivium, jurisprudence and perhaps vernacular writings. In this scheme, constructed for theologians, the works are arranged in descending order of their relative authority: Holy scripture, Doctors of the Church, modern masters, and ancient philosophers. This hierarchy of authority was detailed for example by St. Bonaventure: 'Sunt ergo libri sunt sacrae scripturae. . .; secundi libri sunt orignalia sanctorum, tertii, sententiae magistrorum, quarti, doctrinarum mundialium sive philosophorum.' It was only natural that this hierarchy also appeared in the organization of medieval book collections such as that at the Sorbonne.

"It has been suggested, furthermore, on the basis of the first catalog, that the books were grouped by subject and author in armaria similar to those described by Humbert of Romans ca. 1270, and that the classification of the catalog is a reflection of this arrangement. It is impossible, however, to judge on the basis of the catalog alone whether or not it reflects the physical arrrangement of the books themselves. We are fortunate in this instance to have collateral evidence which reveals the arrangement of certain books in the library just after the turn of the century.

"In 1306, Thomas Hibernicus, a fellow of the Sorbonne, unintentionally but effectively preserved a picture of the arrangement of the manuscripts of the major authors in the armaria, in the process of completing his Manipulus florum. This is a collection of extracts from the authorities grouped according to some 265 topics alphabetically arranged— abstinencia, abusio, acceptio, accidia, adiutorium, etc. Under some 265 topics the extracts appear in a set order without significant variation: quotations from Augustine, Ambrose, Jerome, Gregory, Bernard, Hilary, Chrysostom, Isidore, and so on, concluding with the ancients. At the end of the Manipulus florum Thomas has appended a bibliography of 476 works, each with incipit and explicit, compiled from the Sorbonne's manuscripts. The authors in the bibliography are presented in virtually the same order as the extracts, works of Augustine, Ambrose, Jerome, etc. The order preserved here, the order in which Thomas used the books, is apparently that of the grouping of the books in the armaria of the library. The order is virtually the same as the order of authors in the catalogs of 1290 and 1338, originalia Augustine, Ambrosii, Hieronimi, Gregorii, Bernardi, etc. The combined evidence of the 1290 catalog and the Manipulus florum certainly implies, if does not prove, that the organization of the catalog reflects the physical arrangement of the manuscripts in armaria" (Rouse & Rouse, "The Early Library of the Sorbonne," Authentic Witnesses: Approaches to Medieval Texts and Manuscripts [1991] 370-72).

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1300 – 1400

Origins of the Vatican Library in the Papal Library 1303

The effigy on pope Boniface VIII, carved into the white marble of his sarcophagus in Saint Peter's Basilica. (View Larger)

On the death of Pope Boniface VIII, the papal library, the eventual basis of the Vatican Library, was moved to Avignon.  During Boniface's papacy the library contained "from 483 to 645 volumes" (Rouse & Rouse, Authentic Witnesses: Approaches to Medieval Texts and Manuscripts [1991] 341).

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Medieval Union Catalogue of Manuscripts Circa 1320

About 1320 Oxford Franciscans compiled, on the basis of on-site surveys, the Registrum Anglie de libris doctorum et auctorum ueterum — a manuscript union catalogue of some 1400 manuscript books in England, Scotland and Wales. It listed the works of 98 authors owned by 189 monastic or cathedral libraries.

"Although none of these libraries is Franciscan, the master list is organized geographically according to the division of Great Britain into the custodiae of the Franciscan order. The three surviving manuscripts of the Registrum date from the beginning of the fifteenth century; it is nevertheless possible to establish from external evidence that the Registrum must date from the first or second decade of the fourteenth century" (Rouse & Rouse, Authentic Witnesses. Approaches to Medieval Texts and Manuscripts [1991] 237-38).

Registrum Anglie de libris doctorum et auctorum veterum. Edited with an introduction and notes by Richard H. Rouse and Mary A. Rouse. The Latin text established by R. A. B. Mynors (1991).

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Rules for the Operation of the Library of the Sorbonne 1321

". . . the master promulagated a body of regulations in 1321 'for the benefit of the house [Sorbonne] and the better care of the books,' which defined and rectified the book provisions of the college. . . . In these provisions the masters are bascially concerned with three matters of importance at the time and of significance to the subsequent development of the library: supervision of the loaning and of the general care of the circulating books; enlargement of the collection of chained books; and the making of a new catalog of the whole collection . . . .

"At the head of the list was the stipulation that no book was to be loaned out of the house unless a pledge of greater value, whether book or precious metal, be left in its place in the pledge chest. The responsibility for the circulating books, the libri vagantes of the parva libraria, were placed in the hands of cu stodians of the books who were to elected by the fellows. They were to account for books lost during their tenure, and to exercise strict control over the keys to the parva libraria. The loan register was to be renewed; in it, under the name of each individual borrower, the books which he had were to be precisely described, not only with author and short title, but also with the value of the book and the incipit of its second folio. . . . Certain unbound manuscripts of little worth, such as collections of notes and sermons, were to be disposed of, and the proceeds used to buy books which the library lacked.

"Having insured that adequate control would be maintained over the use and circulation of the unchained books, the statutes secondly insured that the major books would be available at all times. The legislation stipulated that henceforth the best manuscript of each work in the college was to be selected and chained in the libraria communis; all books belonging to the college were subject ot being impounded for chaining, including those which might currently be on loan to individual fellows, because the good of the community outweighs individual privilege . . . .

"The third matter of general significance in the statutes of 1321 was the provision that a new catalog should be made of the whole collection, because many of the books previously owned by the house could not longer be found" (Rouse & Rouse, "The Early Library of the Sorbonne," Authentic Witnesses: Approaches to Medieval Texts and Manuscripts [1991] 378-79).

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The Largest Library in Christendom 1328

A reading room at the Library of the Sorbonne. (View Larger)

The Library of the Sorbonne, the largest in Christendom, contained 1722 volumes of manuscripts in 1328. Since many of these volumes contained more than one text, the total number of texts involved would have been substantially higher. According to some accounts, libraries in Moorish Spain or Al-Andalus, especially in Cordoba, may have contained far larger numbers of manuscripts.

Bischoff, Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and Middle Ages (1990) 226.

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Filed under: Libraries

The Largest Library in England 1331

A photograph of the Canterbury Cathedral, within which resides the Library of Christ Church. (View Larger)

In 1331 the Library of Christ Church, Canterbury, contained "1850 volumes." "The largest monastic collections of this period contained between four and five hundred volumes" (Rouse & Rouse, Authentic Witnesses: Approaches to Medieval Texts and Manuscripts [1991] 341).

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The Second Catalogue of the Library of the Sorbonne 1338

The second catalogue of the library of the Sorbonne—the richest library in Christendom—was written in 1338. 

The library, divided into two parts, contained 1722 volumes. The first portion called the communis or magna libraria consisted of 330 volumes chained to the reading desks. The rest of the collection, designated the small library, consisted of 1090 volumes. About 300 volumes relisted from the prior catalogue written in 1290 were designated as missing or in circulation. The writer(s) of the 1338 catalogue

"furnished a large amount of information about each volume. He gives not only the contents, but also the name of the donor, the estimated value, and first words on the second leaf and on the next to the last leaf. This device, intended to help identification of books belonging to the Library and to prevent mutilation, is invaluable to us in trying to identify surviving volumes of the collection. Some professors kept out books on indefinite loan, like their successors today. Such books were appropriately called libri vagantes, 'strays' from the sacred precincts of the Library. It should be said that usually a money deposit was required of borrowers. We even have loan records of the Library during the fourteenth century. The appraisal of each book given in the catalogue was intended to facilitate payment for books lost by borrowers. Chained books were occasonally loaned but only after a faculty vote. There was even a rudimentary inter-library loan system. And that is not all: a union list of books in the monasteries of Paris was made as early as the thirteenth century for the use of the Sorbonnistes. The catalogue of the reference library is in two parts, a shelf-list and a classified catalogue" (Ullman, The Library of the Sorbonne in the Fourteenth Century. The Septicentennial Celebration of the Founding of the Sorbonne College in the University of Paris. [1953] 35-36).

"The collections of the other colleges of the period included no more than three hundred works. . . " (Martin, The History and Power of Writing [1994] 153).

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Philobiblon, Perhaps the Earliest Treatise on Book Collecting and on Preserving Books & Creating a Library 1345 – 1473

The seal of Richard de Bury. (View Larger)

Shortly before his death in 1345, the priest, bishop, politician, diplomat and bibliophile Richard Aungerville, commonly known as Richard de Bury, wrote Philobiblon, perhaps the earliest treatise on the value of preserving neglected or decaying manuscripts, on building a library, and on book collecting. de Bury was appointed tutor to the future King Edward III while Edward was Prince of Wales, and, according to Thomas Frognall Dibdin, inspired the prince with his own love of books.

Having connections in the court, de Bury somehow became involved in the intrigues preceding the deposition of King Edward II, and in 1325 supplied Queen Isabella and her lover, Roger Mortimer, in Paris with money from the revenues of Brienne, of which province he was treasurer. For a period of time he had to hide in Paris from the officers sent by Edward II to apprehend him.

Upon his ascent to the throne in 1327 Edward III rapidly promoted de Bury, appointing him cofferer to the king, treasurer of the wardrobe and afterwards in 1329 Lord Privy Seal. The king repeatedly recommended him to the pope, and twice sent him, in 1330 and 1333, as ambassador to the papal court in exile at Avignon. On the first of these visits Richard met a fellow bibliophile, Petrarch, who recorded his impression of Aungerville as "not ignorant of literature and from his youth up curious beyond belief of hidden things." Pope John XXII made de Bury his principal chaplain, and presented him with a rochet in earnest of the next vacant bishopric in England. 

During his absence from England in February 1333 de Bury was appointed Dean of Wells. In September of the same year, he was appointed Bishop of Durham by the king. In February 1334 de Bury was made Lord Treasurer, an appointment he exchanged later in the year for that of Lord Chancellor. Richard may have sometimes exploited his political power to collect manuscripts. According to the Wikipedia, an abbot of St Albans bribed him with four valuable books, and de Bury, who procured certain coveted privileges for the monastery, bought from him thirty-two other books for fifty pieces of silver, far less than their normal price. In Philobiblon

"Richard de Bury gives an account of the wearied efforts made by himself and his agents to collect books. He records his intention of founding a hall at Oxford, and in connection with it a library in which his books were to form the nucleus. He even details the dates to be observed for the lending and care of the books, and had already taken the preliminary steps for the foundation. The bishop died, however, in great poverty on 14 April 1345 at Bishop Auckland, and it seems likely that his collection was dispersed immediately after his death. Of it, the traditional account is that the books were sent to the Durham Benedictines Durham College, Oxford which was shortly thereafter founded by Bishop Hatfield, and that on the dissolution of the foundation by Henry VIII they were divided between Duke Humphrey of Gloucester's library, Balliol College, Oxford, and George Owen. Only two of the volumes are known to be in existence; one is a copy of John of Salisbury's works in the British Museum, and the other some theological treatises by Anselm and others in the Bodleian.

"The chief authority for the bishop's life is William de Chambre, printed in Wharton's Anglia Sacra, 1691, and in Historiae conelmensis scriptores tres, Surtees Soc., 1839, who describes him as an amiable and excellent man, charitable in his diocese, and the liberal patron of many learned men, among these being Thomas Bradwardine, afterwards Archbishop of CanterburyRichard Fitzralph, afterwards Archbishop of Armagh, the enemy of the mendicant ordersWalter Burley, who translated Aristotle, John Mauduit the astronomer, Robert Holkot and Richard de KilvingtonJohn Bale and Pits I mention other works of his, Epistolae Familiares and Orationes ad Principes. The opening words of the Philobiblon and the Epistolaeas given by Bale represent those of the Philobiblon and its prologue, of that he apparently made two books out of one treatise. It is possible that the Orationes may represent a letter book of Richard de Bury's, entitled Liber Epistolaris quondam dominiis cardi de Bury, Episcopi Dunelmensis, now in the possession of Lord Harlech.

"This manuscript, the contents of which are fully catalogued in the Fourth Report (1874) of the Historical Manuscripts Commission (Appendix, pp. 379–397), contains numerous letters from various popes, from the king, a correspondence dealing with the affairs of the university of Oxford, another with the province of Gascony, beside some harangues and letters evidently meant as models to be used on various occasions. It has often been asserted that the Philobiblon itself was not written by Richard de Bury at all, but by Robert Holkot. This assertion is supported by the fact that in seven of the extant manuscripts of Philobiblon it is ascribed to Holkote in an introductory page, in these or slightly varying terms: Incipit prologus in re philobiblon ricardi dunelmensis episcopi que libri composuit ag. The Paris manuscript has simply Philobiblon olchoti anglici, and does not contain the usual concluding note of the date when the book was completed by Richard. As a great part of the charm of book lies in the unconscious record of the collector's own character, the establishment of Holkot's authorship would materially alter its value. A notice of Richard de Bury by his contemporary Adam Murimuth (Continuatio ChronicarumRolls series, 1889, p. 171) gives a less favourable account of him than does William de Chambre, asserting that he was only moderately learned, but desired to be regarded as a great scholar (Wikipedia article on Richard de Bury, accessed 02-04-2014).

Philobiblon was published in print for the first time in Cologne, 1473

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Petrarch Discovers Cicero's Letters to Atticus 1345

In 1345 Italian scholar, poet and humanist Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch) discovered Cicero's Letters to Titus Pomponius Atticus in the Bibliotheca Capitolare (Chapter Library) at Verona. This discovery is often credited with initiating the 14th century Renaissance.

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Filed under: Book History, Libraries

Henry of Kirkestede Compiles a Medieval Union Catalogue of Manuscripts Naming 694 Authors Circa 1350

About 1350 the Benedictine monk Henry of Kirkestede, prior of the royal abbey of St. Edmund at Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, and traditionally known as Boston Burienis, compiled a union catalogue of manuscripts in English libraries entitled Catalogus de libris autenticis et aposcrifis. He named 674 authors and assigned to them about 3900 works.

Richard H. Rouse & Mary A. Rouse, eds., Henry of Kirkestede, Catalogus de libris autenticis et aposcrifis (2004).

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Charles V Establishes a Royal Library at the Louvre 1368

The courtyard of the Louvre, present day. (View Larger)

In 1368 King Charles V converted the fortress of the Louvre into a royal palace, and established a royal library there. This library was the origin of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

"Charles had received a collection of manuscripts from his predecessor, John II, and transferred them to the Louvre from the Palais de la Cité. The first librarian of record was Claude Mallet, the king's valet de chambre, who made a sort of catalogue, Inventoire des Livres du Roy nostre Seigneur estans au Chastel du Louvre. Jean Blanchet made another list in 1380 and Jean de Bégue one in 1411 and another in 1424. Charles V was a patron of learning and encouraged the making and collection of books. It is known that he employed Nicholas Oresme, Raoul de Presle and others to transcribe ancient texts. At the death of Charles VI, this first collection was unilaterally bought by the English regent of France, the Duke of Bedford, who transferred it to England in 1424. It was apparently dispersed at his death in 1435" (Wikipedia article on Bibliothèque nationale de France, accessed 02-22-2014).

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Filed under: Libraries , Museums

The Papal Library Contains 2,059 Volumes 1369

In 1369 the papal library contained 2,059 volumes. This, and the library of the Sorbonne in Paris, were the largest libraries in Christendom.

Rouse & Rouse, Authentic Witnesses: Approaches to Medieval Texts and Manuscripts (1991) 341.

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Merton College Library Contains Approximately 500 Manuscripts 1378

A globe in the present day Merton College Library. (View Larger)

In 1378 the new library at Merton College, Oxford was finished. At this time the library at Merton College contained approximately 500 manuscripts.

"At the same time the University of Oxford itself had no more than two or three boxes of books, the ownership of which was disputed by a college, and they were not chained and made accessible till 1412" (M. Davies, "Medieval Libraries" in D. Stam (ed.) International Dictionary of Library Histories I [2001] 107).

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The High Point of Medieval Library Cataloguing 1389

"The high point of medieval library cataloguing is found in the three-part catalog of Dover Priory in England, made in 1389. Here every volume is listed and every tract identified, the tract's position within a volume entered by leaf number, the opening words (the incipit) of each quoted, and the whole rendered accessible by a shelf list and an alphabetical index of all the works in the library" (M. Davies, "Medieval Libraries" in D. Stam (ed.) International Dictionary of Library Histories I [2001] 107).

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John Whytefeld Compiles an Innovative Medieval Library Catalogue 1389

The manuscript catalogue of the library at St. Martin's Priory (Dover Priory) in Dover, England compiled in 1389 was innovative for several reasons. The catalogue, compiled by John Whytefeld, who was probably "precentor," the officer in charge of the library, was divided into three sections:

1. A shelf-listing by call number, the number representing a fixed location even to the location of the individual volume. These entries included short title, the number of the page in the book on which the call number was recorded, and the first words of the text on that page, as well as the number of leaves in the book and the number of works contained in the volume.

2. A section arranged by call number that provided the contents of each volume, with the opening words for each work, and the number and side of the leaf on which each tract begins.

3. A catalogue of analytical entries and an alphabetical listing, but with entries of the usual medieval type, some under author, others under title followed by author, with still other entries beginning with words such as liber (book), pars (part) or codex, with no importance attached to the entry word.

In The Ancient Library of Canterbury and Dover (1903) xc ff., E. R. James described Whytefeld's catalogue and reproduced sections one and two. He also reproduced in Latin Whytefeld's explanatory introduction to the catalogue. This was translated into English by J. W. Clark and published in The Care of Books (1901) 194-96. Because of the innovative, unusual, and complex features of his catalogue system Whytefeld undoubtedly recognized the need for a detailed explanation. I have quoted Clark's translation in its entirety:

"The present Register of the Library of the Priory of Dover, compiled in the year of the Lord's Incarnation 1389 under the presidency of John Neunam prior and monk of the said church, is separated into three main divisions. The object is that the first part may supply information to the precentor of the house concerning the number of the books and the complete knowledge of them: that the second part may stir up studious brethren to eager and frequent reading; and that the third part may point out the way to the speedy finding of individual treatises by the scholars. now although a brief special preface is prefixed to each part to facilitate the understanding of it, to this first part certain general notes are prefixed, to begin with, for the more plain understanding of the whole Register.

"Be it noted, then, first, that this whole library is divided into nine several classes (Distinctions), marked according to the nine first letters of the alphabet, which are affixed to the classes themselves, in such a way that A marks out to him who enters the first Class, B the second, C the third, and so on in order. Each of the said nine classes, moreover, will be seen to be divided into seven shelves (grades), which are also marked off by the addition of Roman numeral figures, following the letters which denote the classes. We begin the number of the shelves from the bottom, and proceed upwards so that the bottom shelf, which is the first, is marked thus, I; the second thus, II; the third thus, III; and so the number goes on up to seven.

"In additon to this, the books of the Library are all of them marked on each leaf with Arabic numberals, to facilitate the ascertaining of the contents of the volumes.

"Now since many of the volumes contain a nymber of treatises, the names of these treatises, although they have not always been correctly christened, are written down under each volume, and an Arabic numeral is added to each name shewing on what leaf each tract begins. To this number the letter A or B is subjoined, the letter A here denoting the first part of the leaf, and the letter B the second. The books themselves, furthermore, have their class-letters and also their shelf-marks inserted not only outside on their bindings, but also inside, accompanying the tables of contents at the beginning. To such class-letters a small Arabic figure is added which shews clearly what position the book occupries in the order of placing on the shelf concerned.

"On the second, third, or fourth leaf of the book, or thereabouts, on the lower margin the name of the book is written. Before it are entered the above-mentioned class-letters and shelf-numbers, and after it (a small space intervening) are immediately set down the words with which that leaf begins, which I shall call the proof of investigation (probatiorum cognitionis). The Arabic figures next following will state how many leaves are contained in the whole volume; and finally another numeral immediately following the last clearly sets forth the number of the tracts contained in the said volume.

"If then the above facts be securely entrusted to a retentive memory it will be celarly seen in what class, shelf, place and order each book of the whole Library ought to be put, and on what leaf and which side of the leaf the beginnings of the several treatses may be found. For it has been the object of the compiler of this present register [and] of the Library, by setting forth a variety of such marks and notations of classes, shelves, order, pagination, treatises and volumes, to insure for his monastery security from loss in time to come, to shut the door against the spite of such as might wish to despoil or bargain away such a treasure, and to setup a sure bulwark of defence and resistance. And in truth the compiler will not be offended but will honestly love anyone who shall bring this register—which is still faulty in many respects—into better order, even if he should see fit to place his own name at the head of the whole work.

"In the first part of the register, therefore, we have throughout at the top, between black lines ruled horizontally, first the class-letter in red, and, following it, the shelf-mark, in black characters (tetris signaculis). The again between other lines ruled in red, vertically: first, on the left a numeral shewing the place of the book in order on its shelf; then the name of the volume; thirdly, the number of the 'probatory' leaf; fourthly, the 'probatory' words in the case of which, by the way, reference is made to the text, and not to the gloss); fifthly, the number of leaves in the whole volume; and, lastly, the number of the treatises contained in it—all written within the aforesaid lines. In addition there will be left in each shelf of this part, at the end, some vacant space, in whcih the names of books that may be subsequently acquired can be placed."

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The Oldest Library in Germany? June 3, 1398

In 2014 the European Commission presented its Europa Nostra award to the Biblioteca Bardensis in Barth, Germany. The earliest reference to the library—also known as the Kirchenbibliothek St. Marien Barth— is a donation record of a collection of books given to the library by Barth pastor Hermann Hut (Hoet) on June 3, 1398. The library, located in the small town of Barth near the Baltic Sea, is one of the oldest parish libraries in Germany, and is also the oldest German library remaining in the exact location in which it was founded.

Among the holdings of the Kirchenbibliothek St. Marien Barth are a dozen or so medieval manuscripts, 130 incunabula and thousands of rare books, all of which were in bad need of restoration in 2014 after many years of neglect. 

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Saint Catherine in her Study with her Revolving Bookstand Circa 1399 – 1416

The Belles Heures of Jean de France, duc de Berry written and illuminated by Herman, Paul and Johan Limbourg, and preserved in The Cloisters of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, includes an image of St. Catherine in her study with a most elegant revolving bookstand, on which we can see eight volumes. 

This is one of the more distinctive depictions of library furnishings in a medieval manuscript.

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1400 – 1450

Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry Circa 1413 – 1416

Folio 64v of Les Très Riches Heures, for the month of June. (View Larger)

About 1413 to 1416 artists Herman, Paul, and Johan Limbourg, working for their patron, Jean, Duc de Berry created the paintings for the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. It is a very richly decorated book of hours containing prayers to be said by the lay faithful at each of the canonical hours of the day.

This book, with its spectacular miniature paintings, has been called the most important illuminated manuscript of the late 15th century, and "le roi des manuscrits enluminés." It remained unfinished at the death of the Duc de Berry in 1416; the artists died the same year, leading to the suggestion that the deaths of artists and patron were caused by plague.

"The Très Riches Heures consists of 416 pages, including 131 with large miniatures and many more with border decorations or historiated initials, that are among the high points of International Gothic painting in spite of their small size. There are 300 decorated capital letters. The book was worked on, over a period of nearly a century, in three stages, led by the Limbourg brothers, Barthélemy van Eyck, and Jean Colombe....

"The writing, illuminated capitals, border decorations, and gilding was most likely executed by other specialists who remain mostly unknown. The Limbourg brothers left the book unfinished and unbound at their, and the Duke's, death in 1416. The work passed to the Duke's cousin, the royal art lover and amateur painter René d'Anjou, who had an unidentified artist, the so-called Master of the Shadows, who was probably Barthélemy van Eyck, work on the book in the 1440s. Forty years later Charles I, Duc de Savoie commissioned Jean Colombe to finish the paintings between 1485 and 1489.The paintings of Colombe are easy to distinguish, as are those of the Master of the Shadows (Barthélemy d'Eyck)" (Wikipedia article on the Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, accessed 11-22-2008).

The manuscript is preserved in the Musée Condé, Chantilly, France.

A detail from folio 14v of Les Très Riches Heures. (View Larger)

John of Valois, the Magnificent, "Jean, Duc de Berry", Duke of Berry and Auvergne and Count of Poitiers and Montpensier, has been called the greatest patron of illuminated manuscripts of his age. His library was probably the most artistically significant of all private libraries collected during the late Middle Ages. The third son of King John II of France and Bonne of Luxemburg; his brothers were Charles V, King of France, Louis I of Anjou, King of Naples and Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy.

Jean maintained numerous estates, including vast collections of art works of many kinds. He also died heavily in debt. Even though his library was much smaller in number than other collections it is far better preserved and accounted for since, for example, items with precious metal may have been melted down, and gemstones dispersed.

Numerous inventories of Jean's library were preserved, the earliest from 1402. Ironically perhaps, because of the many debts that Jean left at his death, aspects of his estate had to be liquidated, and the inventory of his books in the Chateau de Mehun prepared for Jean Bourne, "contrôleur de sa maison," was preserved, including appraised values of the 162 manuscripts, the greatest of which were recognized to be of immense monetary value at the time. This inventory, preserved at the Bibliothèque de Saint-Geneviève, Paris, was published completely for the first time by as La librairie de Jean, duc de Berry, au château de Mehun-sur-Yèvre, 1416, publiée en entier pour la première fois des notes by Hiver de Beauvoir (1860). 

A detail from folio 147v of Les Très Riches Heures. (View Larger)

The most comprehensive study of Jean, Duc de Berry's library, which collated all extant inventories and listed a total of 297 manuscripts with their references in the manuscript inventories, was by Léopold Delisle. In this comprehensive study Delisle included an index by author and subject, and provided an inventory of extant manuscripts from the Duc de Berry library in French and foreign libraries. This was Recherches sur la librairie de Charles V. Partie II. Inventaire des livres ayant appartenu aux rois Charles V et Charles VI et à Jean, Duc de Berry (1907). The study of the library of Jean, Duc de Berry, appears on pp. 217-331.

When Delisle published nearly all of the Berry manuscripts were in institutional collections, primarily in France. Manuscripts remaining in private hands included some the most important: "Second morceau des Heures dites de Turin", and The Hours of Jeanne d'Evreux illuminated by Jean Pucelle, formerly in the collection of Madam la baronne Adolphe de Rothschild, now at The Cloisters of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, "Les Belles Heures du duc de Berry" in the collection of M. le baron Edmond de Rothschild, and now also at the Cloisters of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The library of Sir Thomas Phillipps contained "Débat sur le roman de la Rose," and Henry Yates Thompson owned "Tomes I et II du Miroir historial, en français", "La Bible historiale donnée par le duc de Berry à Jean Harpedenne", and "Le second volume de la Cité de Dieu en français."

Longnon & Cazelles, The Tres Riches Heures of Jean, Duc of Berry (1969) reproduces the manuscript in facsimile with an introduction that includes information concerning the history of the ownership of the manuscript before it was deposited in the Musée Conde by Henri d'Orleans, Duc d'Aumale in 1897.

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Origins of the Bibliotheca Palatina Circa 1436

A portrait of Louis III by Johann David Werl.

Elector Louis III, Count Palatine of the Rhine, founded the Stiftsbibliothek in the Heidelberg Heiliggeistkirche, a church which has good light for reading.  This was the origin of the Bibliotheca Palatina.

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Filed under: Libraries

Vespasiano da Bisticci, Leading Bookseller of Florence Before the Era of Print 1440

Having begun his career as a cartolaio, a stationer or dealer in paper and parchment, Vespasiano da Bisticci became the leading bookseller in Italy during the decades immediately before the invention of printing, and during the first years of its introduction in Italy. He retired in 1480 supposedly disappointed by the changes in the book trade brought about by printing.

By the 1440s Vespasiano owned a bookshop in Florence patronized by members of Florence's humanist community, through whom he was in contact with local scribes, illuminators and binders. Though he was not particularly well educated and had only a modest knowledge of Latin, he was a very shrewd businessman, and he left valuable memoirs informing us of some of his achievements. These were first published in print as Vite di uomini illustri del secolo xv by Ludovico Frati (Bologna, 1892-93); they were translated by William George and Emily Waters as The Vespasiano Memoirs: Lives of illustrious Men of the XVth century by Vespasiano da Bisticci, Bookseller (1926).

When Federico de Montefelto, Duke of Urbino set about building a library he hired Vespasiano to supply all of its books. Vespasiano's description of its contents is especially interesting for its recitation of the authors and works that the Duke and his advisors felt should be included in his library. As one would expect, after more than five hundred years, some of these remain familiar to scholars; others, of course, have become more or less obscure. I was less familiar with the Renaissance names than the names from antiquity or early Christianity. Out of curiosity I looked up most of the names that were obscure to me in November 2014, and linked to them when a reference was available.

Another element of Vespasiano's comments, written toward the end the quotation below, is his reference to the catalogues of the library of the Pope (then at the Lateran Palace before it was established in 1451 at the Vatican), the library of San Marco (Florence), and those at Pavia and Oxford, which he had obtained in manuscript for comparison with the Urbino library. This is the earliest reference that I recall reading where the holdings of different libraries were compared. It is significant, I think that Vespasiano was aware of, and could obtain the catalogue of the library at Oxford in addition to major libraries in Italy. One wonders whether he was also aware of the much larger library at the University of Paris, and if he could have obtained a catalogue of the holdings there.

The process of creating and collecting Federico's library took fourteen years, especially since Federico resolved  

"to do what no-one had done for a thousand years or more; that is to create the finest library since ancient times. He spared neither cost nor labour, and when he knew of a fine book, whether in Italy or not, he would send for it. It is now fourteen or more years since he began the library, and he always employed, in Urbino, in Florence and in other places, thirty or forty scribes in his service. He took the only way to make a fine library like this: by beginning with the Latin poets, with any comments on the same which might seem merited; next the orators, with the works of Tully [Cicero] and all Latin writers and grammarians of merit. . . . He sought also all the known works on history in Latin, and not only those, but likewise the histories of Greek writers done into Latin, and the orators as well. The Duke also desired to have every work on moral and natural philosophy in Latin, or in Latin translations from Greek.

"As to the sacred Doctors in Latin, he had the works of all four. . . .After the four Doctors, he was set on having the works of S. Bernard and of all the Doctors of old, without exception, Tertullian, Hilarius, Remigius, Hugh de S. Victor, Isidore, Anselm, Rabanus and all the rest. After Latin works came Greek writings done into Latin, Dionysius the Areopagite, Basil, Cyril, Gregory Nazianzen, John of Damascus, John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nicea, all the works of Eusebius, of Ephreme the monk, and of Origen. . . . Coming to the Latin Doctors in philosophy and theology, all the works of Thomas Aquinas, and of Albertus Magnus; of Alexander ab Alexandro, of Scotus, of Bonaventura, of Richard of Mediavilla [Richard of Middleton], of the Archbishop of Antoninus and of all the recognised modern Doctors, down to the Conformità of S. Francis; all the works on civil law in the finest text, the lectures of Bartolo written on goat-skin. He had an edition of the Bible made in two most beautiful volumes, illustrated in the finest possible manner and bound in gold brocade with rich silver fittings. It was given this rich form as the chief of all writings. With it are all the commentaries of the Master of the Sentences, of Nicolao di Lira, and of all the Greek and Latin Doctors, together with the literal glossary of Nicolao di Lira. Likewise all the writers on astrology, geometry, arithmetic, architecture and De re Militari; books on painting sculpture, music and canon law, and all of the texts and lectures on the Summa of Ostiensis and other works in the same faculty. In medicine all lthe works of Avicenna, Hippocrates, Galen, the Continenti of Almansor and the complete volume of all the Councils, held since ancient times, and the logical, philosophical and muscial works of Boethius.

"There were all lthe works of modern writers beginning with Pope Pius; of Petrarch and Dante in Latin and in the vulgar tongue, of Boccaccio in Latin; of Coluccio and of Lionardo d'Arezzo, original and translations; of Fra Ambroglio, of Giannozzo Manetti and Guerino; the prose and poetical works of Panormita, and Francesco Filelfo, and Compano; as well as everything written by Perrotto, Maffeo Vegio, Nicolo Secondino (who was interpreter of Greek and Latin at the Council of the Greeks in Florence), Pontano, Bartholomeo Fazi, Gasparino, Petro Paolo Vergerio, Giovanni Argiropolo (which includes the Philosophy and Logic of Aristotle and the Politics besides), Francesco Barbaro, Lionardo Giustiniano, Donato Acciaiuoli, Alamanno, Rinuccini, Cristofano da Prato, Vecchio, Poggio, Giovanni Tortello, Francesco d'Arezzo and Lorenzo Valla.

"He added to the books written by ancient and modern doctors on all the faculties all the books known in Greek, also the complete works of Aristotle and Plato (written on the finest goat-skin); of Homer in one volume, the Ilia, the Odyssey, and the Batrachomiomachia; of Sophocles, Pindar and Menander, and all the other Greek poets; a fine volume of Plutarch's lives and his moral works, the Cosmography of Ptolemy illustrated in Greek, and the writings of Herodotus, Pausanius, Thucydides, Polybius, Demosthenes, Aeschines and Plotinus. All the Greek comments, such as those upon Aristotle, the Physica de Plantis and Theophrastus; all the Greek vocabulists—Greek into Latin; the works of Hippocrates, Galen, Xenophon, S. Basil, S. John Chrystotom, S.Athanasius, S. John Damascenas, S. Gregory Nazianzen, S. Gregory of Nicea, Origen, Dionysius the Areopagite, John Climacus, S. Ephrem the monk, Aeneas the Sophist, the Collations of John Cassanus, the book of Paradis, Vitae sanctorum patrum ex Aegypto, the Life of Barlaam and Josephat, a wonderful psalter in Hebrew, Greek and Latin, verse by verse, and all the Greek works on geometry, arithmetic, and astrology. Finding that he lacked a vast number of Greek books by various writers, he sent to seek them so that nothing in that tongue which could be found should be lacking; also whatever books were to be had in Hebrew, beginning with the Bible and all those dealt with by the Rabbi Moses and other commentators. And besides the Holy Scriptures, there are books in Hebrew on medicine, philosophy and the other faculties.

"The Duke, having completed this noble work at the cost of thirty thousand ducats, beside the many other excellent provisions that he made, determined to give every writer a worthy finish by binding his work in scarlet and silver. Beginning with the Bible, as the chief, he had it covered iwth gold brocade, and then he bound in scarlet and silver the Greek and Latin doctors and philosophers, the histories, the books on medicine and the modern doctors, a rich and magnificent sight. In this library all the books are superlatively good, and written with the pen, and had there been one printed volume it would have been ashamed in such company [emphasis mine]. They were beautifully illuminated and written on parchment. This library is remarkable amongst all others in that, taking the works of all writers, sacred and profane, original and translated, there will be found not a single imperfect folio. No other library can show the like, for in all of them the works of certain authors will be wanting in places. A short time before the Duke went to Ferrara it chanced that I was in Urbino with His Lordship, and I had with me the catalogues of the principal Italian libraries: of the papal library, of those of S. Marco at Florence, of Pavia, and even of that of the University of Oxford, which I had procured from England. On comparing them with that of the Duke I remarked how they all failed in one respect; to wit, they possessed the same work in many examples, but lacked the other writings of the author; nor had they writers in all the faculties like this library" (George & Waters, 102-105). 

Vespasiano was responsible for supplying over half of the thousand volumes in the library of the Duke of Urbino. He also performed the same service for Cosimo de' Medici. For that project Vespasiano engaged fifty-five scribes and illuminators who completed two hundred superb manuscripts in under two years. 

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The First "Public" Library in Renaissance Europe 1444

The library at the Dominican Convent of San Marco, designed by Michelozzo. (View Larger)

Foundation of the library at the Dominican Convent of San Marco in Florence by Cosimo de' Medici, designed by Michelozzo.

This has often been considered the first "public library" in Renaissance Europe.

"The ideal of a public library was one treasured by humanists and their patrons. Yet the term public library meant something very different to Renaissance scholars than it does today. It did not designate a library open to all comers. First and oldest of the available meanings of the term public library was that of a common library. Many libraries and colleges of the late medieval period had public libraries in this sense, usually meaning a collection for the collective use of the institutional community. Second was the notion of a library that served the public utility or was used for the public benefit, largely in a political sense; an archive, for example, or a library meant to support the jurisdictional and diplomatic activities of the ecclesiastical or secular political body it served. Third, a library might be in a public building or within the public space of a house or palace.

"Perhaps the best early expression of the modern concept of the public library is to be found in the establishment of the San Marco library, the first public library at Florence. The foundation of the library was Niccoli's collection. Niccoli's intentions were for his library to be brought 'to the common good, to the public service, to a place open to all, so that all eager for education might be able to harvest from it as from a fertile field the rich fruit of learning.' Eventually, the executors of Niccoli's estate permitted Cosimo de' Medici to place the books in the library of the Dominican convent of San Marco, which Cosimo was then on the verge of constructing. The library opened in 1444 and was the first public library in Florence, containing 400 volumes laid out across 64 benches. The San Marco library embodied three different Renaissance concepts of a public library: It was the common library of the Dominican convent in which it was housed, a collection made available to a circle of humanist investigators, and an institution supported by the public patronage of an eminent ruler" (P. Nelles, "Renaissance Libraries", Stam, (ed.) International Dictionary of Library History [2001] 151).

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The First European Civic Library; The Only Completely Preserved 15th Century Library 1447 – 1452

The entrance to the Biblioteca Malatestiana. (View Larger)

The Biblioteca Malatestiana (Biblioteca Malatesta Novello) was commissioned by Malatesta Novello, Lord of Cesena and brother of Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, in Cesena, Emilia-Romagna, Italy. The library which Novello founded was the first European civic library, belonging to the commune, and open to everyone. 

The Malatestiana Library, which I visited in September 2010, is the only monastic humanist library of which the structure, fittings and original collection of codices in their original bindings chained to the original desks, have survived almost completely intact. The main doorway was the work of the early Italian Renaissance sculptor Agostino di Duccio. The splendid walnut door carved by Cristoforo da San Giovanni in Persiceto was installed in 1454.

"The fittings are composed of 58 desks, with coat of arms at the sides. The light comes in through the 44 Venetian style windows, which were perfectly designed for reading. Inside are conserved 340 precious codexes. The 340 books concern: religion (among them, the oldest codex, an Etimologie by St Isidoro), Greek and Latin classics, sciences and medicine" (Wikipedia article on Malatestiana Library, accessed 10-30-2010).

To equip his library Malatesta Novello commissioned certain scribes to produce copies of many of the standard classics. These scribes included Jean-Epinal, Jacopo della Pergola, Brother Francesco di Bartholomeo, and Mathias Kuler. After Malatesta's death the library remained static--fixed in time.

The survival of the original library and its fixtures was probably due to the way that Malatesta Novello entrusted its care to both the Franciscans and the city of Cesena. The Franciscans originally had the idea for the library and received permission from Pope Eugene IV in 1445, and began construction in 1447. In 1450 Malatesta Novello adopted the friars' project and constructed his own library in their monastery. The inspiration for the architecture was the library of the Dominican convent of San Marco in Florence, designed by Michelozzo, which had been founded in 1444.

From 1797 to 1804 the Franciscan monastery associated with the library was used as a dormitory for Napoleonic troops occupying the city, and the library itself was stripped of its furnishings and also used as a dormitory. After Napoleon's forces left the library was restored to its original medieval condition and regained its original collections, less two incunabula which were kept by the French: the Ortographia dictionum of Tortelli and Cosmographia of Ptolemy.

Among the many distinguishing characteristics of the decoration of this library are the numerous inscriptions created at the time of its completion stating in Latin that the library was the gift of Malatesto Novello. On 1812 the remains of Malatesta Novello were moved from the church of St. Francis, already in poor condition and destined to destruction, to the middle of the back wall of the library, accompanied by this marble epigraph:

"D (IS) M (ANIBUS) S (ACRUM) / principum / Malatesta (UM) / SENIORIS NOVELLIQUE / CINERES Quosa DOMI / ET Foris / Clarissa (IMA) VIRTUS / CAEL DICAVIT."  

Clark, The Care of Books (1902) 193-98.

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1450 – 1500

The Library of Hartmann Schedel, One of the Largest Libraries Formed by an Individual in the 15th Century 1450 – 1571

A woodcut from the Nuremburg Chronicle, showing Erfurt, 1493.

Portrait of Johann Jakob Fugger, 1541.

16th century portrait of Albert V, Duke of Bavaria by Hans Mielich.

The library of Hartmann Schedel, physician and author of the Nuremberg Chronicle, was unequalled in fifteenth-century Germany. Schedel was interested in virtually all areas of knowledge of the late Middle Ages: rhetoric, astronomy, philosophy, classical and humanist literature, historiography, geography and cosmography, medicine, law, and theology. As early as the 1450s and 1460s, during his studies at the universities of Leipzig and Padua, he transcribed many works in his own hand. Later Schedel took advantage of the growing supply of printed books in Nuremberg, a center of European trade and publishing. He also made use of an international network of correspondents and suppliers to acquire new publications from other places. At the end of his long life, Schedel's library comprised nearly 700 volumes, including many composite volumes with several items. 

Even though Schedel stipulated in his last will that his library should remain a family heirloom, Schedel's grandson and heir, Melchior (1516-1571), an imperial soldier, sold his grandfather's books to the Augsburg merchant Johann Jakob Fugger in 1552. In 1571 Fugger sold his library, incorporating Schedel's, to Duke Albert V of Bavaria. It became the cornerstone of the what is now the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. Today, more than 370 manuscripts and 460 printed items from Schedel's collection are preserved in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. This is the largest private collection of books that survived from fifteenth century Germany.

In November 2014, honoring the 500th anniversary of Schedel's death, the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek opened a physical and virtual exhibition of books from Schedel's library. In November 2014 the home page of the virtual exhibition, with links to many downloads of digital editions, including all five editions of the Nuremberg Chronicle, was available at this link.

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Establishment of the Vatican Library April 30, 1451

A hall of the Vatican Library. (View Larger)

With a Brief on April 30, 1451 "pro communi doctorum virorum commodo" (to facilitate the research of scholars) Pope Nicholas V established the Vatican Library by combining some 350 Greek, Latin and Hebrew codices inherited from his predecessors with his own collection and extensive acquisitions.

The Vatican Library, as originally established by Nicholas V, included manuscripts from the Imperial library of Constantinople, rescued or plundered before that library was burned in 1204 when Constantinople was sacked during the Fourth Crusade.

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Printing Decreased the Costs of Books by 80% 1468

Portrait of Pope Paul II by Cristofano dell'Atissimo (1525-1605).

A painting of Saint Jerome by Bartolomeo Cavarozzi in the early 17th century entitled St. Jerome Visited by Angels.

Portrait of Pope Sixtus IV by Justus van Gent and Pedro Berruguete circa 1473-1475 in the Louvre.

In 1468 humanist Giovanni Andrea Bussi (Joannes Andreae de Bussis), bishop of Aléria, and the chief editor for the printing house of Conrad Sweynheym and Arnold Pannartz after it moved from Subiaco to Rome, wrote to Pope Paul II:

"In our time God gave Christendom a gift which enables even the pauper to acquire books. Prices of books have decreased by eighty percent" (Hirsch, Printing, Selling and Reading 1450-1550 [1967] 1).

Hirsch mentions in a footnote that this statement was printed by Sweynheym and Pannartz in their edition of St. Jerome, Epistolae, Rome, 1468, but does not mention that Bussi edited that edition. 

"Bussi also produced for Sweynheym and Parnnatz editions of the Epistolae of Jerome (1468), the Historia naturalis of Pliny the Elder (1470), the complete works of Cyprian (1471), and the works of Aulus Gellius. Though his edition of Pliny [ISTC no. ip00787000] was not the first (a 1469 printing at Venice preceded it), nonetheless it was criticised by Niccolò Perotti in a letter to Francesco Guarneri, secretary of cardinal-nephew Marco Barbo. Perotti attacks Bussi's practice, then common, of adding one's own preface to an ancient text, and also the quality and accuracy of his editing" (Wikipedia article on Giovanni Andrea Bussi, accessed 01-04-2009).

Bussi dedicated most of his editions to Pope Paul II, whom he served as the first papal librarian. That a bishop and papal librarian served as chief editor for printers suggests a both a recognition of the importance of printing by the church and a close relationship between the printers and the Vatican. 

ISTC no. ih00161000

(This entry was last revised on 07-16-2014.)

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The First Printed Edition of "Philobiblon": Collecting, Preserving and Handling Books 1473

From Cologne in 1473 the so-called "Printer of Augustinus De fide" (Goiswin Gops or Johann Schilling?) issued the first printed edition of Richard de Bury's Philobiblon, a work on the love of books and book collecting, and on the maintaining of a library, written in 1345.

In February 2014 the ISTC (no. ir00191000) cited three digital facsimiles of this work, of which that at Heinrich Heine Universität Düsseldorf was available at this link

In January 2014 Elizabeth Arnold published this quotation from Philobiblon in her Ask the Past blog:

"And in the first place as to the opening and closing of books, let there be due moderation, that they be not unclasped in precipitate haste, nor when we have finished our inspection be put away without being duly closed. For it behoves us to guard a book much more carefully than a boot. 
But the race of scholars is commonly badly brought up, and unless they are bridled in by the rules of their elders they indulge in infinite puerilities...You may happen to see some headstrong youth lazily lounging over his studies, and when the winter's frost is sharp, his nose running from the nipping cold drips down, nor does he think of wiping it with his pocket-handkerchief until he has bedewed the book before him with the ugly moisture.... He does not fear to eat fruit or cheese over an open book, or carelessly to carry a cup to and from his mouth... 
But the handling of books is specially to be forbidden to those shameless youths, who as soon as they have learned to form the shapes of letters, straightway, if they have the opportunity, become unhappy commentators, and wherever they find an extra margin about the text, furnish it with monstrous alphabets, or if any other frivolity strikes their fancy, at once their pen begins to write it."
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The Library of Giovanni di Marco da Rimini, Possibly the Earliest Physician's Library Preserved Intact 1474

On his death in 1474 Giovanni di Marco da Rimini, physician to Malatesta Novello,  bequeathed his library of medical manuscripts to the recently established Biblioteca Malatestiana in Cesena, Italy. 

Giovanni's library, which was preserved along with the rest of the Bibliotheca Malatestiana, may be the earliest physician's library to have survived intact. The library contains numerous spectacular codices of the expected standard European and Arab scientific and medical authorities, several dating from the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries, and one (S. XXI.5) dating from the 8th century. Some are finely illuminated. That Giovanni owned several manuscripts from prior centuries suggests that he collected books not only for reference but also out of humanistic and antiquarian interest.

An excellent annotated catalogue of this library was published in large 4to format: Manfron (ed.) La Biblioteca di un Medico del Quattrocento. I codici di Giovanni di Marco da Rimini nella Bibliotheca Malatestiana (1998).  The catalogue contains numerous fine color plates.

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The First Catalogue of the Vatican Library 1475

Under Pope Sixtus IV specific quarters were established to house the volumes of manuscripts and the archives that formed the nucleus of the Vatican Library. In 1475 the library prepared the first catalogue of its holdings as a manuscript for internal use in the library.

"When its first librarian, Bartolomeo Platina, produced a listing in 1481, the library held over 3,500 items, making it by far the largest in the Western world" (Wikipedia article on Vatican Library accessed 09-16-2010).

Among his other accomplishments, Sixtus IV built the Sistine Chapel

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Rules of the Library, Merton College, Oxford, 1484 November 3, 1484

In 2013 I acquired a broadside issued by the Press of the Woolly Whale, New York, in 1939.  This reprinted in a rather elegant manner the Rules of the Library Made in the second year of Richard III and the third of the Wardenship of Warden [Richard] Fitzjames, November 3, 1484. The rules were translated from the Latin register of Merton College, Oxford. The 1939 broadside stated that "Every member of the college was required to take an oath on admission, that he would obey these rules."

I. When admitted to the use of the books contained in the Library, you shall, so far as the frailty of man permits, do no damage to any book, either by handling it roughly or by tearing out its pages, but you should handle the books in a seemly fashion and keep them from all harm.

II. Likewise you shall neither privily nor openly remove any book which is confined to the Library for the use of members of the college. If you know of any book or books so removed by any person, you shall, so soon as you fairly can after the offense has been committed and become known to you Expose the offender by giving his name to the Warden, or in his absence, to the Sub-Warden.

III. Likewise, if you happen to bring Visitors to the Library you shall so far as in you lies see to it that the college does not, from the introduction of such visitors, suffer any loss by the theft of books or parts of them.

IV. Likewise, if you happen to lose the Key of the Library, and cannot find it again within four-and-twenty hours, you shall then without further delay, report the loss of the Key to the Warden, or, in his absence, to the Sub-Warden.

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Filed under: Book History, Libraries

1500 – 1550

Johannes Trithemius Great Expands his Abbey Library as a Result of the Development of Printing 1505

Tomb relief of Johannes Trithemius

By the time he left the Abbey at Sponheim, Germany Johannes Trithemius expanded its library to 2000 volumes of printed books and manuscripts from the 40 works present in the library when he became Abbot in 1482. 2000 volumes represented an exceptionally large library for the time.

Besides a reflection of Tritheimius's skill and tenacity as a book collector, the growth of the Sponheim Abbey library reflects the increased availability of information after the development and spread of printing in Europe.

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Ferninand Columbus Collects One of the Largest Private Libraries of the 16th Century Circa 1510 – 1539

Ferdinand Columbus (Fernando Colombo, Fernando Colón), the second son of Christopher Columbus, returned from the New World in 1510, and proceeded to collect one of the largest private libraries of the sixteenth century. This library, La Bibliotheca Colombina, included about 15,000 volumes, of which about 7000 survive today, including 1194 books printed before 1501.

Ferdinand Columbus's library, which also includes a number of volumes from the personal library of his father Christopher Columbus, is preserved in the Cathedral of the City of Seville in Andalucia. Among the volumes in La Bibliotheca Colombina is the manuscript catalogue of Ferdinand's print collection. According to Mark McDonald, editor of this manuscript catalogue listing 3200 sheets (including 390 prints by Albrecht Dürer), no print collection from the fifteenth or sixteenth century has survived, and the manuscript catalogue of Columbus' print collection is the only record of such a print collection that has survived. Columbus's print catalogue is notable for its organizational scheme. McDonald (editor) The Print Collection of Ferndinand Columbus 1488-1539: A Renaissance Collector in Seville (2004).

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Francesco Albertini Issues the First Guidebook to Ancient and Modern Rome: a New "Mirabilia Romae" 1510

Since the early Middle Ages guide-books were written for the use of pilgrims to Rome. The Incunabula Short Title Catalogue maintained by the British Library cites over 100 different printed editions of the medieval guide known as Mirabilia Romae issued before 1501. Opusculum de mirablis novae & veteris urbis Roma first issued in 1510 by Francesco Albertini, a pupil of the painter Domenico Ghirlandaio who became canon of the Basilica of San Lorenzo in Florence and chaplain of Cardinal Fazio Santoro in Rome, was the first guidebook to both ancient and modern Rome. It was well designed as a guidebook with a detailed table of contents of its three parts in the beginning and running heads relating to each section, making it easy to find specific sections of the guide.

Besides an account of ancient Rome, with information about excavations and archaeological discoveries, Albertini discussed the churches and buildings commissioned by Julius II and the artists who decorated them. In connection with the Sistine Chapel we learn about Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Lippi, and Michelangelo. This latter reference, together with another in Albertini’s Memoriale of the same year, represents the earliest printed notice of that artist. In the third section there is one of the earliest description of the Vatican Library in qua sunt codices auro et argento sericinisque tegminibus exornati, and mentioning the Codex Vergilianus (probably the Vergilius Vaticanus,) among other notable works. Albertini also refers to the Library’s collections of astronomical and geometrical instruments.

The final portion of the work is a laudatory account of the cities of Florence and Savona (the birthplace of Pope Julius II, to whom the book is dedicated). Here we also find mention of many eminent literary and artistic persons such as Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Brunelleschi, Leonardo da Vinci, et al. In this section Albertini refers to Amerigo Vespucci and his New World discoveries: Albericus Vespulcius of Florence, sent by the most Christian King of Portugal, but lastly by the Catholic King of Spain, first discovered new islands and unknown countries, as is plainly set forth in his book, where he describes the stars, and the new islands, as is also seen in his Letter upon the New World, addressed to Lorenzo de Medici the Younger. 

"By the begnning of the sixteenth century the collecting of statuary, inscriptions, and other antiques was being regarded with greater interest than hitherto. This is evident from the literary remains of Francesco Albertini. . ., which are also of some interest in showing how by this time the Mirabilia were no longer satisfying even those who were not professional antiquarians. Albertini himself cannot be consdiered a real scholar. He was in fact a gifted amateur with a flair for vulgarisation and an eye for works of art; not for nothing had been a pupil of Ghirlandaio in Florence, which makes one wonder whether he may have been the author of the drawings of Rome and Roman antiquities not at the Escorial, which clearly betray a hand trained by that painter. . . .

" It was in the household of Cardinal Fazio Santoro in Rome that Albertini composed his Opusculum novae et verteris Urbis Romae. But the suggestion to write it had actually come from Cardinal Galeotto della Rovere, who had expressed the wish to see a reliable and up-to-date guide of the city. While the Opusculum is invaluable for the information it supplies on contemporary Rome, it certain constitutes no landmark in the development of antiquarian science. Even its avowed aim to replace the Mirabilia had really been anticipated a couple of generations earlier by Biondo. What Albertini really achieved was a new Mirabilia, a handbook meant for the cultured visitor to Rome, where medieval legend was replaced by the new knowledge resulting from about a century of humanist investigation. Its structure is still that of the old Mirabilia with the subject matter still subdivided in the traditional way, its chapters dealing with the walls, the 'viae', the theatres, etc. It is in fact a kind of swollen catalogue, nor is such an arrangement abandoned in the second part, where Albertini dealt with the Rome of his own time. But here similarities with the Mirabilia cease. For Albertini did not hesitate to summon to his aid all the sources on which could lay his hands, thus relaying the considerable range of his reading. Classical texts used by him included not only the better known authors and the catalogues of the regions, naturally in the text revised by Pomponio Leto, but also Festus, Vitruvius and Frontinus, on whom he of course relied for his section on aqueducts. He was obviously at home with inscriptions, and besides relying on the evidence they supplied, he often quoted them in full, not hestiating to include some discovered only very recently. Like other antiquarians, he did not ignore the evidence offered by ancient coins. But perhaps what shows most clearly the range of his interest is his references to humanist writings. For here besides Petrarch, Biondo, Leto, and Poggio, we also find appeals to the authority of Alberti, Landino, Petro Marsi, Beroaldo, and Raffaele Maffei. Like so many of his contemporaries, he too was taken in by Annion da Viterbo's outrageous forgeries of ancient texts and antiquities, just as he did not escape the usual mistakes, such as the identification of the small temple by the Tiber with that of Vesta, or the attribution of the well-known Dioscuri to Pheidias and Praxiteles.

"Albertini's account of ancient Rome is certianly valuable, It is so particularly because of what he tells us about excavations and recent archaeological discoveries, and also because of the information he gives about the Roman collections of antiques in his time. It certainly proved something of a best-seller during the first quarter of the sixteenth century, as is brought home to us by its no less than five editions between 1510 and 1523" (Roberto Weiss, The Renaissance Discovery of Classical Antiquity [1969] 84-86).

In November 2014 I could not find a digital facsimile of the 1510 or 1515 Rome editions, but a digital facsimile of the Basel, 1519 edition was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link, and a digital facsimile of the Lyon, 1520 edition was available from the Internet Archive at this link.  

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Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries Brings Destruction and Dispersal of Libraries 1536 – 1541

 In 1536, King Henry VIII formally disbands all monasteries in his realm and seizes their property, including thousands of books and manuscripts, most of which were subsequently lost or destroyed.  (View Larger)

In a formal process called Dissolution of the Monasteries, Henry VIII disbanded monastic communities in England, Wales and Ireland and confiscated their property. Henry was given the authority to do this by the Act of Supremacy, passed by Parliament in 1534, which made him Supreme Head of the Church in England, and by the First Suppression Act (1536) and the Second Suppression Act (1539).

"Along with the destruction of the monasteries, some of them many hundreds of years old, the related destruction of the monastic libraries was perhaps the greatest cultural loss caused by the English Reformation. Worcester Priory (now Worcester Cathedral) had 600 books at the time of the dissolution. Only six of them are known to have survived intact to the present day. At the abbey of the Augustinian Friars at York, a library of 646 volumes was destroyed, leaving only three known survivors. Some books were destroyed for their precious bindings, others were sold off by the cartload. The antiquarian John Leland was commissioned by the King to rescue items of particular interest (especially manuscript sources of Old English history), and other collections were made by private individuals; notably Matthew Parker. Nevertheless much was lost, especially manuscript books of English church music, none of which had then been printed.

A great nombre of them whych purchased those supertycyous mansyons, resrved of those lybrarye bokes, some to serve theyr jakes, some to scoure candelstyckes, and some to rubbe their bootes. Some they solde to the grossers and soapsellers.                   — John Bale, 1549"

(Wikipedia article on Dissolution of the Monasteries, accessed 11-25-2008)

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Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza Establishes the First European School of Higher Learning in the Americas January 6, 1536

On January 6, 1536 the Real Colegio de Santa Cruz, the first European school of higher learning in the Americas, was founded in Tlatelolco, Mexico. The school was built by the Franciscan order on the initiative of Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza and Bishop Juan de Zumárraga on the site of an Aztec school for the children of nobles (in Nahuatl: Calmecac). The school also included the first academic library in the Americas.

"The original purpose of the colegio was to educate an indigenous priesthood, and so pupils were selected from the most prestigious families of the Aztec ruling class. They were taught in Nahuatl, Spanish and Latin and also learned the basics of Greek as well as crafts such as illumination, bookbinding and European art. Among the teachers were notable scholars and grammarians such as Andrés de OlmosAlonso de Molina and Bernardino de Sahagún, all of whom made important contributions to the study of both the Classical Nahuatl language and the ethnography and anthropology of Mesoamerica. Also Fray Juan de Torquemada served as a teacher and administrator at the Colegio. When recollecting historical and ethnographical information for the elaboration of the Florentine Codex, Sahagún used his trilingual students to elicit information from the Aztec elders and to transcribe it in Spanish and Nahuatl and to illuminate the manuscripts. The Nahua botanist Martín de la Cruz who wrote the Libellus de Medicinalibus Indorum Herbis was also educated at the Colegio" (Wikipedia article on Colegio de Sata Cruz de Tlatelolco, accessed 10-18-2013).

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John Dee Collects Perhaps the Largest Library in Elizabethan England Circa 1540 – 1609

John Dee, the English mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, occult philosopher, imperialist, and adviser to Queen Elizabeth I, devoted much of his life to the study of alchemy, divination, Hermetic philosophy, and medicine, though he was not a trained physician. One of Tudor England's most extraordinary and enigmatic figures, Dee claimed to own 3000 printed books and 1000 manuscripts, which he kept at his home in Mortlake, London. These were recorded in his library catalogue, a document which surivived and was edited for publication by Julian Roberts and Andrew Watson as John Dee's Library Catalogue (London: Bibliographical Society, 1990). Dee was a persistent annotator of his books, many of which contain extensive, elegantly written legible notes very worthy of study. 

In May 2016 it was my pleasure to visit the Royal College of Physicians in London with members of The Grolier Club to see an exhibition of the more than 100 books from John Dee's library preserved in the library of the RCP. That group, which remains the largest collection of volumes from Dee's library, remarkably, appears to have been stolen, or otherwise parted, from Dee's library when Dee traveled to the Continent in the 1580s, leaving his extremely valuable library and laboratories in the care of his brother-in-law Nicolas Fromond. Instead of caring for the books and scientific instruments Fromond appears to have sold them without Dee's permission, causing most of them to be widely dispersed, to such extent that Dee was never able to recover most of them.

Either by purchase or possibly by theft, the books from Dee's library at the College of Physicians came into the possession of Dee's pupil Nicholas Saunder the Younger who attempted in many cases to conceal Dee's signature or other mark of ownership by overwriting with his own. Saunder's books passed to Henry Pierrepont, Marquis of Dorchester, who was a devoted book collector. Pierrepont's family later donated his library to the Royal College of Physicians. 

John Dee's books in the Royal College of Physicians' library: A handlist. (London: RCP, 2016).

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The Library of the Painter El Greco and its Influence upon his Art 1541 – 1614

In April 2014 the Museo del Prado, the Biblioteca Nacional de España, and Fundación El Greco 2014 presented an exhibition entitled El Greco’s Library. The painter El Greco (Doménikos Theotokópoulos) was born in Crete. When he died in Toledo on April 7, 1614, he had among his belongings 130 books recorded in two inventories written by his son Jorge Manuel Theotokopoulos, one of which was compiled a few weeks after the death of the painter, and the other developed in 1621 as evidence of the goods Jorge Manuel brought to his second marriage.

The aim of the exhibit, and the accompanying book published by the Prado entitled, Biblioteca del Greco (2014), was to reconstruct the theoretical and literary roots of El Greco’s art through his library. Notable among his books was a copy of Vitruvius’s treatise on architecture from the Biblioteca Nacional de España, and a copy Vasari’s Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects. Both were copiously annotated by El Greco with comments that revealed his ideas on architecture and on painting. Also on display was a copy of Xenophon’s Works and one of Appian’s Civil Wars, both of which were represented in his library, and one of Sebastiano Serlio’s architectural treatise with annotations that have on occasions been attributed to the artist. The exhibition was completed by three manuscripts, nine prints that probably inspired compositions by El Greco, and five paintings which showed the relationship between his pictorial output and the books in his library. Also on display were the original inventories of 1614 and 1621, and a letter from the artist to Cardinal Alessandro Farnese. The exhibition also included nine prints, mostly by Cornelis Cort and Dürer, which were key reference points for the painter, and five paintings, including Boy Blowing on an Ember and The Annunciation, which reveal the relationships between the artist’s pictorial creations and his books.

In total, the exhibition included 56 works that introduced visitors to what El Greco read and wrote, his knowledge and thinking, with the aim of understanding the ideas on the art of painting that underpinned his creative activities. The five sections of the exhibition reconstructed the artist’s career and analysed the way he saw painting as a speculative science. The first section emphasized the importance of El Greco’s Greek heritage throughout his life, while the second and third sections showed the key role that Italian culture played in his artistic transformation. The largest section focused on books on architecture, which highlighted El Greco’s interest in the universal nature of this discipline, and its influence on the status of painting as a liberal art. The exhibition closed with a small section on religious imagery, including a copy of Alonso de Villegas’s Flos sanctorum [Flowers of the Saints], which includes the first reference to the painter in print. 

"Based on the original documents of these two inventories, the exhibition is organised into five sections which together present its theoretical argument.

Greek forefathers and the classical heritage 

This section reveals the importance of Greek culture on El Greco, who was always manifestly proud of his origins. This is evident in the copies he owned of classical texts by Homer, Appian and Xenophon and others on the life of Alexander the Great, a hero of Greek history and the paradigm of artistic patronage due to his support for Apelles, of whom El Greco may have considered himself a modern personification. Also notable in this section is the absence of books by Plato in the artist’s library and the contrasting presence of works by Aristotle.

Metamorphosis in Italy 

The second section analyses the definitive transformation of El Greco’s painting following his time in Rome, Venice and other Italian cities. It was at this point and through an intensive process of self-education based on his knowledge of other artists’ work, his contacts with intellectuals and his own reading that he assimilated the prevailing practice and theory of art. At this point El Greco began to see painting as an autonomous discourse that went beyond the moralising depiction of subjects inspired by mythology, history and religion.

Painting as a speculative science

This section provides the exhibition’s central focus, given that El Greco believed that painting could imitate the invisible but also the impossible: in other words, he conceived of it as a means to explore the wonders of the real and to represent mythological subjects or sacred mysteries.

Vitruvius and the terms of architecture

While El Greco championed the hegemony of painting in relation to sculpture and architecture, at this period it was habitual to consider the latter the preeminent art form due to its traditional association with the liberal arts and because a knowledge of it was essential for becoming a 'universal man'. This is how the artist must have seen himself: he designed the architectural settings for some of the altarpieces into which his paintings were set and also wrote an architectural treatise, the contents and whereabouts of which are now unknown. These issues explain why his library included several copies of Vitruvius’s treatise as well as copies of the most important architectural treatises published in his own day, such as those by Sebastiano Serlio, Vignola and Andrea Palladio.

The problem of religious imagery

The final section emphasises the fact that although much of El Greco’s output consists of religious paintings, he did not devote a single one of his reflections to this subject and only owned around eleven books on religion. Aside from his own religious practice, he must have used these books to ensure that his works were doctrinally correct and conformed to contemporary precepts of decorum" (http://artdaily.com/news/69256/Three-Spanish-cultural-institutions-join-forces-to-present--El-Greco-s-Library--exhibition#.U0KgN61dUmQ,  accessed 04-07-2014).

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Conrad Gessner Issues the First General Subject Index 1548 – 1549

In 1548 Conrad Gessner (Gesner) issued from Zurich Pandectarum sive Partitionum universalium libri XXI. Pandectarum was the first general subject index, which Gessner intended as a key to his Bibliotheca Universalis (1545).

According to Ruth French Strout's "The Development of the Catalog and Cataloging Codes," Library Quarterly 26 (1956) 263 Gessner included in the Pandectarum

"instructions for the arrangement of books in a library, and he conceived of his system of classification for library as well as for bibliographical purposes. He even suggested that libraries use copies of his bibliogrpahies as their catalogues by inserting call numbers beside entries which represented their holdings, thus providing themselves with both an author and a subject catalogue."

This assertion I was unable to verify in June 2014, as no text of the Pandectarum was available online.

Breslauer & Folter, Bibliography: Its History and Development [1984] no. 16).

Besterman, The Beginnings of Systematic Bibliography 2nd ed (1940) no. XVII.

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1550 – 1600

A Sixfold Dos-à-Dos Binding from the Sixteenth Century Circa 1550

An elaborately decorated binding preserved in the Rogge Library in Strängnäs, Sweden, probably the most complicated binding I have ever heard of, I opens in six different directions, each revealing a different book. The five books then not in use are kept closed by a system of clasps. This sixteenth century binding preserves six printed devotional texts printed in Germany from the 1550s to 1570s, including Martin Luther's Der kleine Catechismus. In March 2014 numerous images of the binding were available from the National Library of Sweden's flickr page at this link.

Located in a 15th century building in the city of Strängnäs, the Rogge library was named after Konrad Rogge, who served as bishop in the city between 1479 and 1501.

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Otto-Henry, Elector Palatine, Founds the Bibliotheca Palatina Circa 1555

Portrait of Prince-elector Otto Henry by Georg Pencz, 1530-1545. The painting now resides in St. Petersburg. 

A set of images depicting choosing the king from the Heidelberg Sachsenspiegel, circa 1300.

About 1555 Otto-Henry, Elector Palatine, (German: Ottheinrich),Count Palatine of Palatinate-Neuburg from 1505 to 1559 and prince elector of the Palatinate from 1556 to 1559, formally established the Bibliotheca Palatina in Heidelberg. At its peak this library included about 5000 printed books and "3524 manuscripts." The library expanded with important manuscripts acquired from the collection of Ulrich Fugger (d. 1584), notably the illustrated Sachsenspiegel.

"Joseph Scaliger considered this Fugger Library superior to that owned by the Pope; the manuscripts alone were valued at 80,000 crowns, which was a very considerable sum for the 16th century" (Wikipedia article on the Bibliotheca Palatina, accessed 11-23-2008).

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Albert V, Duke of Bavaria, Founds the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek 1558

A portrait of Albreccht V, Duke of Bavaria by Hans Mielich, 16th century.

A painting of Orlando di Lasso directing a chamber ensemble by Hans Mielich, 16th century.

In 1558 Albrecht V, Duke of Bavaria acquired the library of the humanist, orientalist, philologist, and theologian, Johann Albrecht Widmannstetter. This was the origin of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, München.

"Albert was a patron of the arts and a collector whose personal accumulations are the basis of the Wittelsbach antique collection of Greek and Roman antiquities, the coin collection and the Wittelsbach treasury in the Munich Residenz; some of his Egyptian antiquities remain in the collection of Egyptian art. His personal library has come to the Bavarian State Library in Munich, inheritor of the Wittelsbach court library.

"Like an American millionaire of the Gilded Age, he bought whole collections in Rome and Venice; in Venice, after tiresome drawn-out negotiations with the aged Andrea Loredan, he purchased the Loredan collection virtually in its entirety: 120 bronzes, 2480 medals and coins, 91 marble heads, 43 marble statues, 33 reliefs and 14 various curiosities, for the sum of 7000 ducats; 'they were all exported from Venice secretly at night in large chests'. At the same time, squabbles among the heirs of Gabriele Vendramin thwarted him in his attempt to purchase the single most important collection in Venice and paintings and antiquities, drawings by the masters and ancient coins. To house his antiquities he commissioned the Antiquarium in the Munich Residenz, the largest Renaissance hall north of the Alps.

"He appointed Orlando di Lasso to a court post and patronized many other artists; this led to a huge burden of debts (½ Mio. Fl.)" (Wikipedia article on Albert V, Duke of Bavaria, accessed 01-03-2010).

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Florian Trefler Builds upon Gessner's Library Classifcation Scheme 1560

Methodus exhibens per varios indices, et classes subinde, quorumlibet librorum cuiuslibet bibliothecae, breve, facilem imitabilem ordinationem published in Augsburg in 1560 provided an innovative scheme for library organization. Written by the Benedictine monk Florian Trefler, the small work attempted to address the difficulty of finding books in uncatalogued libraries in which there was no discernable order.

"He devised a scheme of classification and call numbers quite advanced for his time, in spite of the fact that one unit in the call number was made to represent the color of the binding. He advocated a five-part catalogue which consisted of an alphabetical author catalogue, a shelf list, a classified index to analytics, an alphabetical index to the classified index, and finally, a list of books which, for various reasons, were not kept with the main collection. Catalogues made according to Trefler's plan would have been far ahead of their time indeed. He had a comprehension of the value of providing more than one means of access to a book, something wholly unknown in his day. In another way, too, Trefler showed himself progrssive, i.e., in following Gesner's suggestion for the use of the Pandectarum as a library catalog. Trefler recommended that a checked copy of it be used as one section of his proposed plan for a catalogue, namely the subject index to analytical entries" (Stout, "The Development of the Catalog and Cataloging Codes," Library Quarterly 26 (1956) 263).

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Giuseppe Arcimboldo Paints a Surrealist Portrait of the Librarian 1566

In 1566 Italian painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo, court portraitist to Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I at the Habsburg court in Vienna, and later, to Maximilian II and his son Rudolf II at the court in Prague, painted The Librarian as part of a series of portraits in which a collection of objects—in this instance books—form a recognizable likeness in semi-human form of the portrait subject. In The Librarian, Arcimboldo used objects that signified the book culture at that time. Animal tails, which became the beard of the portrait, were used as dusters.

This painting, preserved at Skokloster Castle, Sweden, is, like others from Arcimbaldo's series, often interpretted as an expression of the Renaissance fascination with riddles, puzzles, and the bizarre. 

"The bizarre works of Arcimboldo, especially his multiple images, were rediscovered in the early 20th century by Surrealist artists like Salvador Dalí. The exhibition entitled “The Arcimboldo Effect” at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice (1987) included numerous 'double meaning' paintings. Arcimboldo's influence can also be seen in the work of Shigeo Fukuda, István Orosz, Octavio Ocampo, and Sandro del Prete, as well as the films of Jan Švankmajer" (Wikipedia article on Giuseppe Arcimboldo, accessed 01-02-2011).

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Archbishop Matthew Parker Assembles the First Major Antiquarian Book Collection in England 1568

In 1568 Archbishop of Canterbury Matthew Parker secured a license from Queen Elizabeth to seek out "auncient records or monuments" from the former libraries of the monasteries suppressed by Henry VIII, and from old cathedral priories converted to the use of the Church of England.

"He thus had first choice of many hundreds of manuscripts of the very highest importance. This was the earliest major antiquarian collection ever asssembled in England, long before those of Thomas Bodley (1545-1613) or Robert Cotton (1571-1631), which became the foundations of the libraries of the Bodleian in Oxford and, eventually, the British Library in London" (de Hamel, The Parker Library: Treasures from the Collection [2000] 8). 

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Opening of the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana 1571

In 1571 the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana (The Laurentian Library of the Medicidesigned by Michelangelo was opened to the public  in Florence, Italy.

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Jeremias Martius Issues Possibly the First Printed Catalogue of Any Private Library 1572

Issued in 1572 by the Augsburg printer Michael Mangerus, Catalogus bibliothecae, the catalogue of the private library of the Augsburg physician, Jeremias Martius (c. 1535-1585), may be the earliest printed catalogue of a private library. 

Maclean, Learning and the Market Place: Essays in the History of the Modern Book (2009) 106.

(This entry was last revised on 03-03-2015.)

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Book Collector Matthew Parker Donates his Library 1574

In 1574 Archbishop of Canterbury Matthew Parker donated his library of about 480 manuscripts and about 1000 printed books to the library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

"He was an avid book collector, salvaging medieval manuscripts dispersed at the dissolution of the monasteries; he was particularly keen to preserve materials relating to Anglo-Saxon England, motivated by his search for evidence of an ancient English-speaking Church independent of Rome. The extraordinary collection of documents that resulted from his efforts is still housed at Corpus Christi College, and consists of items spanning from the sixth-century Gospels of St. Augustine to sixteenth century records relating to the English Reformation.

"The Parker Library's holdings of Old English texts accounts for nearly a quarter of all extant manuscripts in Anglo-Saxon, including the earliest copy of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (c. 890), the Old English Bede and King Alfred´s translation of Gregory the Great´s Pastoral Care. The Parker Library also contains key Anglo-Norman and Middle English texts ranging from the Ancrene Wisse and the Brut Chronicle to one of the finest copies of Chaucer´s Troilus and Criseyde. Other subjects represented in the collection are music, medieval travelogues and maps, bestiaries, royal ceremonies, historical chronicles and Bibles. The Parker Library holds a magnificent collection of English illuminated manuscripts, such as the Bury and Dover Bibles (c. 1135 and c. 1150) and the Chronica maiora by Matthew Paris (c. 1230-50)" (Parker Library on the Web [Beta] accessed 11-27-2008).

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Hieronymous Wolf, Librarian to Johann Jakob Fugger, Issues the First Printed Catalogue of a Portion of a Public Library 1575

In 1575 Hieronymous Wolf, humanist, and librarian to Johann Jakob Fugger, published Catalogus Graecorum librorum manu scriptorum Augustanae bibliothecae. Wolf's slim pamphlet of only 6 leaves listed 126 Greek manuscripts presented by Fugger to the City Library of Augsburg, Fugger's native city. It may be considered the first printed catalogue of a portion of a public library.

Breslauer & Folter, Bibliography: Its History and Development (1984) no. 25.

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François Grudé de la Croix du Maine Issues the First French National Bibliography 1584

In 1584 French scholar and bibliographer François Grudé de la Croix du Maine published in Paris Premier Volume de la Bibliothèque du Sieur de la Croix-Du-Maine. Qui est un catalogue général de toutes sortes d'Autherus, qui on escrit en François depuis cinq cents ans & plus.

This was the first French national bibliography.

"The authors, numbering three thousand, as the title states, are arranged in the aphabetical order of their first names, but a list of their surnames is given in the preliminaries. Their short biographies are followed by the lists of their works and bibliographical data, as far as known to the author. Vol. II, a subject index, and vol. III, Latin works by French authors never appeared as Grudé was assassinated [as a Protestant sympathizer in 1592.

"The work contains an auto-bibliography of several hundred works on French history of which none has survived, earning Grudé in some quarters the title of impostor" (Breslauer & Folter, Bibliography: Its History and Development [1984] no. 29).

Grudé also included a proposal for a Royal National Library with a number classification system similar to the modern decimal classification system. On p. 511 of his book there is a woodcut which may be the earliest printed representation of a bookcase.

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Pope Sixtus V Commissions the Design and Construction of the Vatican Library Circa 1587

About 1587 Pope Sixtus V commissioned the Swiss-born Italian architect Domenico Fontana to construct a new building for the Vatican Library.  

The library building is still in use today, and contains the famous Sistene Hall.

"This noble hall—probably the most splendid apartment ever assigned to library-purposes—spans the Cortile del Belvedere from east to west, and is entered at each ed from the galleries connecting the Belvedere with the Vatican palace. It is 184 fee long, and 57 feet wide, divided into two by six piers, on which rests simple quadripartite vaults. The north and south walls are each pierced with seven large windows. No books are visible. They are contained in plain wooden presses 7 feet high and 2 feet deep, set round the piers, and against the walls between the windows. . . .(Clark, The Care of Books [1902] 49-50). 

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Sir Robert Bruce Cotton Forms One of the Most Important Private Collections of Manuscripts Ever Collected in England 1588 – 1631

In 1588 English politician Sir Robert Bruce Cotton began collecting original manuscripts, an activity which he continued until his death in 1631. One of the foundations of the British Museum since 1753, and hence of the British Library, Cotton's library of 958 manuscripts has been called the most important collection of manuscripts ever assembled in Britain by a private individual. Competing for this designation would, of course, be Archbishop of Canterbury Matthew Parker's library at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Parker, who began collecting in 1568, preceded Cotton in his collecting by a generation. The Sir Thomas Phillipps library, though formed in the nineteenth century and dispersed, was many times larger than either Cotton's or Parker's libraries, and also needs to be considered for the designation. 

Among Cotton's many treasures were the Lindisfarne Gospels, two of the contemporary exemplifications of Magna Carta, and the only surviving manuscript of Beowulf.  The first published catalogue of the Cottonian Library was Thomas Smith's Catalogus Librorum Manuscriptorum Bibliothecae Cottonianae, a substantial folio volume including a life of Robert Cotton and a history of the library published in Oxford in 1696. 

On October 23, 1731 Cotton's library suffered very significant damage in a fire where it was stored at Ashburnham House in London. Of its 958 manuscripts 114 were "lost, burnt or intirely spoiled" and another 98 damaged enough to be considered defective. The Wikipedia article on Ashburnham House states  

"a contemporary records the librarian, Dr. Bentley, leaping from a window with the priceless Codex Alexandrinus under one arm. The manuscript of Beowulf was damaged, and reported in 'The Gentleman's Magazine.' "  

An expert committee was formed to investigate the cause of the fire and assess the damage. This resulted in A Report from the Committee appointed to view the Cottonian Library and such of the Publick Records of this Kingdom as they think proper and to Report to the House the Condition thereof together with what they shall judge fit to be done for the better Reception Preservation and more convenient Use of the same (London, 1732). David Casley (1681/2-1754), deputy librarian of both the Royal and Cottonian collections, and a member of this committee, compiled the list of damaged and destroyed Cotton manuscripts, which was printed in an appendix to the committee's report. Casley described a number of manuscripts as "burnt to a crust." The Committee was also "empowered to investigate the state of the public records as a whole. They found that for the most part they were 'in great Confusion and Disorder' and much in need of care and attention" (Miller, That Noble Cabinet, 36).

The 1732 report also contained an appendix consisting of "A Narrative of the Fire. . . and of the Methods used for preserving and recovering the Manuscripts of the Royal and Cottonian libraries,"  compiled by the Reverend William Whiston the younger, the clerk in charge of the records kept in the Chapter House at Westminster, another notorious firetrap. Almost immediately after the fire attempts at restoration or stabilization of some of the damaged manuscripts was undertaken, mostly by inexperienced workers under the supervision of members of the committee, using whatever methods were available, and thus potentially damaging as much as preserving what remained.  

In April 1837, palaeographer Frederic Madden, Assistant Keeper of Manuscripts at the British Museum, was shown a garret of the old museum building which contained a large number of burnt and damaged fragments and vellum codices. Madden immediately identified these as part of the Cottonan Library. During his tenure as Keeper of MSS, Madden undertook extensive conservation work on the Cottonian manuscripts, often in the face of opposition from the Museum’s board, who deemed the enterprise prohibitively expensive.

In collaboration with the bookbinder Henry Gough, Madden developed a conservation strategy that restored even the most badly damaged fragments and manuscripts to a usable state. Vellum sheets were cleaned and flattened and mounted in paper frames. Where possible, they were rebound in their original codices. Madden also carried out conservation work on the rest of the Cottonian Library. By 1845 the conservation work was largely complete, though Madden was to suffer one more setback when a fire broke out in the Museum bindery, destroying some additional manuscripts in the Cottonian Library.  The process of restoring and conserving these precious manuscripts, which continues to this day, was studied extensively by Andrew Prescott in " 'Their Present Miserable State of Cremation' : the Restoration of the Cotton Library," Sir Robert Cotton as Collector" Essays on an Early Stuart Courtier and His Legacy, edited by C. J. Wright (1997) 391-454. This paper, and its 357 footnotes, was available online in April 2012.

"The Cottonian Library was the richest private collection of manuscripts ever amassed; of secular libraries it outranked the Royal library, the collections of the Inns of Court and the College of Arms; Cotton's house near the Palace of Westminster became the meeting-place of the Society of Antiquaries and of all the eminent scholars of England; it was eventually donated to the nation by Cotton's grandson and now resides at the British Library.

"The physical arrangement of Cotton's Library continues to be reflected in citations to manuscripts once in his possession. His library was housed in a room 26 feet (7.9 m) long by six feet wide filled with bookpresses, each with the bust of a figure from classical antiquity on top. Counterclockwise, these are catalogued as Julius (i.e., Julius Caesar), Augustus, Cleopatra, Faustina, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian. (Domitian had only one shelf, perhaps because it was over the door.) Manuscripts are now designated by library, bookpress, and number: for example, the manuscript of Beowulf is designated Cotton Vitellius A.xv, and the manuscript of Pearl is Cotton Nero A.x" (Wikipedia article on Sir Robert Cotton, accessed 11-22-2008).

The most useful version of Smith's 1696 catalogue of Cotton's library, published in somewhat reduced format, was the offset reprint done from Sir Robert Harley's copy, annotated by his librarian Humfrey Wanley, together with documents relating to the fire of 1731. This annotated edition included translations into English of the Latin essays on the life of Robert Cotton and the history of the library. Edited by C.G.C. Tite, it was published in 1984. See also Tite, The Early Records of Sir Robert Cotton's Library. Formation, Cataloguing, Use (2003). 

Sharpe, Sir Robert Cotton 1586-1631. History and Politics in Early Modern England (1979).

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Leiden University Library Issues the First Printed Catalogue of any Institutional Library 1595

Having been founded in 1587, Leiden University Library in 1595 issued the first printed catalogue of its holdings: Nomenclator autorum omnium, quorum libri vel manuscripti, vel typis expressi exstant in Bibliotheca Academiae Lugduno-Batavae (List of all Authors whose Books, Whether Manuscript or Printed, are Available in Leiden University Library). This was the first published catalogue of any institutional library.

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Filed under: Bibliography, Libraries

1600 – 1650

English Book Owners in the 17th Century. A Work in Progress Listing by David Pearson 1600 – 1700

"English book owners in the seventeenth century
A work in progress listing

"How much do we really know about patterns and impacts of book ownership in Britain in the seventeenth century? How well equipped are we to answer questions such as the following?:

 What was a typical private library, in terms of size and content, in the seventeenth century?
 How does the answer to that question vary according to occupation, social status, etc?
 How does the answer vary over time? – how different are ownership patterns in the middle of the century from those of the beginning, and how different are they again at the end?

"Having sound answers to these questions will contribute significantly tour understanding of print culture and the history of the book more widely during this period. 

"Our current state of knowledge is both imperfect, and fragmented. There is no directory or comprehensive reference source on seventeenth-century British book owners, although there are numerous studies of individual collectors. There are well-known names who are regularly cited in this context – Cotton, Dering, Pepys – and accepted wisdom as to collections which were particularly interesting or outstanding, but there is much in this area that deserves to be challenged. Private Libraries in Renaissance England and Books in Cambridge Inventories have developed a more comprehensive approach to a particular (academic) kind of owner, but they are largely focused on the sixteenth century. Sears Jayne, Library Catalogues of the English Renaissance, extends coverage to 1640, based on book lists found in a variety of manuscript sources. The Cambridge History of Libraries in Britain and Ireland (2006) contains much relevant information in this field, summarising existing scholarship, and references to this have been included in individual entries below where appropriate.

"Evidence of book ownership in this period is manifested in a variety of ways, which need to be brought together if we are to develop that fuller picture. Lists of books once owned by particular people can be found in sale catalogues, private catalogues, wills, and other various
kinds of inventory. Many collections for which no such lists exist are witnessed to today by surviving books, with inscriptions, bookplates, armorial bindings, and numerous other kinds of copy-specific markings. Some collections survive entire, where they were bequeathed or
bought en bloc, while others were scattered and are much harder to reconstruct. Working from surviving books is bedevilled not only by the fact that owners did not always mark their books, but also by needing to remember that vast quantities of books have been destroyed
since the seventeenth century. There are many collections which once existed which we will never be able to recognise. The quantity of material in our libraries today is nevertheless sufficient to allow us to make significant advances in our knowledge of early book ownership,
if we can bring together that information.

"This list represents work in progress to construct a reference source on seventeenth-century English book owners, based on all these various kinds of evidence. It does not seek to cover Scottish and Irish owners, unless they were predominantly English-based. The aim is to focus 
on collections which were at least partly, if not entirely, formed within the seventeenth century and the list includes people who died between 1610 and 1715.

"The list draws largely on existing published work but also incorporates evidence of surviving books, taken mainly from sale and library catalogues. One of the challenges of this exercise lies in establishing criteria for inclusion, as regards size of collection. Is a private library of
this period interesting if it contains 50 books, 100 books, or 500 books? There is no simple answer to this; it depends on who the owner was, what the books were, and which part of the century it applies to. The list has been compiled on an essentially intuitive basis with the aim
of including people who did, or are likely to have, owned enough books to be worth noting in the context of developing that wider understanding. Refining and developing the list is part of the research process. We cannot list every individual who owned a Bible and a shelf of
devotional books, but a grocer who owned 50 books in 1620 may be at least as interesting as an academic who owned 500. The list does not include people who are likely to have been owners, but for whom there is no surviving evidence. A number of known users of armorial
binding stamps are included, together with users of bookplates, found the Franks collection, and known to have died before 1715 (these are both areas where other projects and  and directories are being worked on).

"The arrangement of the list should be self-evident, alphabetical by owners’ names, with some entries relating to families rather than individuals (this, again, is an area where more thought is needed as to how best to cope with collections built up over more than one generation). The references cited are not meant to be exhaustive; abbreviated references are expanded in the list at the end.

"One of the ways in which an online resource like this can be useful is by providing quick links to images of the kinds of provenance evidence which various owners left in their books, so that identifications can be verified (is this inscription I’m looking at the man I think it is, or another owner of the same name? etc). I have been gradually adding links to other websites which include useful images like this. One of the features of this latest version of the list is the addition of links to a number of other images of inscriptions and bookplates, which I have put onto Flickr. I will aim to augment this over time. The list also now includes links to the
database of British Armorial Bindings, begun by John Morris and completed by Philip Oldfield, and freely available on the web via the University of Toronto and the sponsorship of the Bibliographical Society. This major reference work contains details and images of all
known armorial binding stamps used by British owners not only in the seventeenth century, but from the earliest use of suecvh stamps in the sixteenth century through to the present day.

"I am sharing this list through bibliographical Internet sites partly because, imperfect and incomplete though it is, the list may already have enough data to be useful in various kinds of ways, and partly in the hope of stimulating responses and ideas as to how it should be developed. It may also be useful as a list of references and sources of further leads on particular owners. I will be very glad to have suggestions for names and references which should be added, or any other feedback from others who are interested in this area of book history as to how to take this project forward (many thanks to everyone who has already contacted me in this way, including Bob Fehrenbach, Peter Hoare, Philip Oldfield, Jeremy Potter, Renae Satterley and David Shaw). I am happy for any or all of the data here to beused in any ways that are helpful to fellow book historians though I would appreciate the source being cited where appropriate.

"David Pearson
Revised December 2013
Email drspearson@dsl.pipex.com" (The Bibliographical Society Electronic Publications 2007 [latest version December 2013], accessed 11-30-2014)

In November 2014 Mr. Pearson's bibliographical listing, including many links to other websites, was available from The Bibliographical Society at this link.

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Justus Lipsius Issues the First "Major" History of Libraries 1602

De bibliothecis syntagma, a pamphlet of 34 pages published in Antwerp at the Plantin-Moretus Press in 1602, has been called, in spite of its brevity, the first "major" history of libraries. It was written by the Southern-Netherlandish (Belgian) philologist and humanist Joose Lips, or Josse Lips, best-known through the Latinization of his name, Justus Lipsius. "Based primarily on the writings of classical Greek and Roman authors, it surveyed the libraries of antiquity by describing their locations, buildings, storage methods, and, to a small extent, their contents" (Walker, Justus Lipsius and the Historiography of Libraries," Libraries & Culture XXVI [1991] 49-65.)

In 1907 librarian John Cotton Dana issued an English translation of the second edition (1607) of Lipsius's work as A Brief Outline of the History of Libraries.

In spite of its brevity because of the paucity of surviving information, and its dependence mostly on secondary sources, Lipsius's work remained widely consulted and underwent numerous editions through the 18th and early 19th centuries. It was superceded to a certain extent by the much more extensive work of Louis Jacob (1644), but replaced mainly by the work of Edward Edwards (1859). See Thomas D. Walker, "Ancient Authors on Libraries: An Analysis and Bibliographic History of De Bibliothecis Syntagma by Justus Lipsius," Justus Lipsius Europae Lumen et Columen: Proceedings of the International Colloquium... (Leiden, 1999) 233-247.

(This entry was last revised on 06-10-2015).

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Thomas Bodley Founds The Bodleian, the First "Public" Library in England, & the First British National Library November 8, 1602 – 1605

On November 8, 1602 the Bodleian Library at Oxford opened to the "public" with a collection of 2000 books assembled by Thomas Bodley. It was intended to replace the library that had been donated to the Divinity School at Oxford by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester (brother of Henry V), but which had been dispersed in the 16th century at the orders of young Edward VI, successor to Henry VIII.

Between 1598 and 1605, when the first catalogue of the Bodleian was published, Bodley and his circle secured sufficient donations of books and cash to create a library of about 8,700 volumes, making it effectively the British national library. From the start the Bodleian was the first "public" rather than "private" library in England, and one of the first "public" libraries in Europe. On May 26, 2015 I had the opportunity to visit the spectacular new facilities of the Bodleian at Clarendon House in Oxford during a Grolier Club gathering in England, and I was able to ask Richard Ovenden, the director of the Bodleian Library, to explain what the concept of a 'public" library meant at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Mr. Ovenden, whose official title is "Bodley's Librarian," explained that public in this context meant that the library was open to qualified scholars, but not to the general public in the way that we define a public library today. The concept of providing a library for the use of qualified scholars at a university was new, as other libraries at the time were essentially private.

The first catalogue of the Bodleian, compiled by its first librarian, Thomas James, indicated its public nature in its title: Catalogus librorum bibliothecae publicae quam vir ornatissimus Thomas Bodleius Eques. . . . When I revised this entry in May 2015 I did not find a digital edition of the 1605 catalogue available; however the catalogue had been reproduced in facsimile as The first printed Catalogue of the Bodleian Library 1605 (Oxford, 1986). From that facsimile one could "read the shelves" in the organizational arrangement by subject favored by Bodley. Most entries listed author, title, place and date of publication. The catalogue concluded with a lengthy author index across all subjects.

"Although the University of Oxford must yield priority at least to the University of Leiden in publishing a general catalogue of its books, it remains true that the Bodleian in 1605 was the first institutional library to produce a substantial and widely distributed record of a collection which had, from its foundation, world-wide fame" (Introduction to the 1986 facsimile, vii.)

Together with its mission of providing service to qualified scholars, the Bodleian required an oath to be sworn by all readers before admission:

"You promise and solemnly engage before God. . . that whenever you shall enter the public library of the University, you will frame your mind to study in modesty and silence, and will use the books and other furniture in such manner that they may last as long as possible. Also that you will neither yourself in your own person steal, change, make erasures, deform, tear, cut, write notes in, interline, wilfully spoil, obliterate, defile, or in any other way retrench, ill-use, wear away or deteriorate any book or books nor authorise anyother person to do the like" (quoted by Pettegree, The Book in the Renaissance [2010] 230). 

Alexander Marr, "Learned Benefaction: Science, Civility and Donations of Books and Instruments to the Bodleian Library Before 1605," Documenting the Early Modern Book World. Inventories and Catalogues in Manuscript and Print, ed. Walsby & Constantinidou (2013) 27-50.

(This entry was last revised on 05-27-2015.)

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Federico Borromeo Founds the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, the Second "Public" Library in Europe December 8, 1609

On 1609 Cardinal Federico Borromeo founded the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan. Depending on how "public library" is defined, the Ambrosiana was possibly the the second public library in Europe, after the Bodleian at Oxford. However, the Ambrosiana was preceded in Italy by the library at the Domincan convent of San Marco (1444) and the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana (1571), both of which were characterized as "public" libraries when they were founded. Thus, there may be some uncertainly as to which library was actually the first "public" library in Europe.

To build up the Ambrosiana's collections Cardinal Borromeo's agents scoured Western Europe, and even Greece and Syria for books and manuscripts. In 1606 they acquired the complete manuscripts of the Benedictine monastery of Bobbio, founded in 614, and the library of the Paduan Vincenzo Pinelli, whose more than 800 manuscripts filled 70 cases when they were sent to Milan, and included the famous extremely early illuminated miniatures of the Iliad, the Ilias Ambrosiana.

"During Cardinal Borromeo's sojourns in Rome, 1585–95 and 1597–1601, he envisioned developing this library in Milan as one open to scholars and that would serve as a bulwark of Catholic scholarship against the treatises issuing from Protestant presses. To house the cardinal's 15,000 manuscripts and twice that many printed books, Construction began in 1603 under designs and direction of Lelio Buzzi and Francesco Maria Richini. When its first reading room, the Sala Fredericiana, opened to the public, December 8, 1609, it was, after the Bodleian Library in Oxford, the second public library in Europe. One innovation was that its books were housed in cases ranged along the walls, rather than chained to reading tables, a practice seen still today in the Laurentian Library of Florence. A printing press was attached to the library, and a school for instruction in the classical languages.

"Cardinal Borromeo gave his collection of paintings and drawings to the library too. Shortly after the cardinal's death his library acquired twelve manuscripts of Leonardo da Vinci, including the Codex Atlanticus. . . ." (Wikipedia article on the Biblioteca Ambroisiana).

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Possibly the Earliest Extant Examples of Wall-Shelving are in Duke Humfrey's Library 1610 – 1612

Bookshelves constructed in the Arts End of  Duke Humfrey's Library in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, designed for smaller books to be shelved upright rather than folios laid flat, were installed from 1610 to 1612. They are among the earliest surviving bookshelves of this type. 

Wormald & Wright, The English Library before 1700 (1958) 237, and frontispiece.

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Filed under: Book History, Libraries

Graphic Depiction of Leiden University Library in 1610 1610

In 1610 bookseller and publisher Andries Cloucq published a series of four large prints depicting the main buildings and halls of Leiden University: the anatomy theatre, the library, the botanical garden and the fencing school. The prints were engraved by Willem van Swanenburg after drawings by the Leiden artist Jan Cornelis van't Woudt (Woudanus)

Most relevant to this database is the famous print of the interior of the library, of which the Wikipedia reproduces a hand-colored copy from a version published in Stedboeck der Nederlanden (Amsterdam: Willem Blaeu, 1649). 

As Clark writes in The Care of Books (1902) 164:

"The bookcases were evidently contrived with the view of getting the largest number possible into the room. Each contained a single row of books, chained to a bar in front of the shelf; and, also for the purpose of saving the space usually occupied by a seat, readers were obliged to consult them standing. There are eleven bookcases on each sie of the room, each containing from 40 to 48 volumes. At the end of the room are two cupboards, probably for manuscripts; and to the right of the spectator is a third press marked Legatum Josephi Scaligeri. He died in January, 1609. Further, as an illustration of the usual appliances for study found in libraries at this period, and often mentioned in catalogues and account-books, I should draw attention to the globes and maps."

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At Hereford Cathedral the Largest Historic Chained Library in the World 1611

The library at Hereford Cathedral. (View Larger)

The working library of Hereford Cathedral in England originated in the eleventh century. The chained library at the cathedral, containing 229 medieval manuscripts, remains the largest historic chained library in the world, with all its rods, chains and locks intact. It has been preserved in the form in which it was maintained from 1611 to 1841.

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Maximilian Donates the Bibliotheca Palatina to the Vatican 1622

Though many books in the Bibliotheca Palatina of Heidelberg were "torn or dispersed into private hands" when troops under Maximilian I of Bavaria sacked Heidelberg in 1622 during the Thirty Years War, Maximilian decided to confiscate the remaining manuscripts as war booty, and presented them to Pope Gregory XV as "a sign of his loyalty and esteem." 196 cases containing about 3500 manuscripts were transported across the Alps to Rome on 200 mules under the supervision of scholar Leo Allatius.

In 1623 these books were incorporated into the Vatican Library with a Latin bookplate which may be translated as "I am from the library captured in Heidelberg and sent as spoils of war to Pope Gregory XV by Maximilian, Duke of Bavaria, etc., . . . A.D. 1623." 

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Gabriel Naudé Issues One of the Earliest Works on Librarianship 1627

While a medical student in 1627 Gabriel Naudé published in Paris one of the earliest works on book-collecting and librarianship: Avis pour dresser une bibliothèque.

Naude's book, written while he served as librarian for Henri de Mesme, Président à Mortier in the Parliament of Paris and councillor to Louis XIII, contained an early mention of the goal of creating a public universal library:

"And therefore I shall ever think it extremely necessary, to collect for this purpose all sorts of books, (under such precautions, yet, as I shall establish) seeing a Library which is erected for the public benefit, ought to be universal; but which it can never be, unlesse it comprehend all the principal authors, that have written upon the great diversity of particular subjects, and chiefly upon all the arts and sciences; [. . .] For certainly there is nothing which renders a Library more recommendable, then when every man findes in it that which he is in search of . . . ."

When Naudé wrote only three "public" libraries existed in Europe: the Bodleian Library opened at Oxford in 1602, the Bibliotheca Ambrosiana founded in Milan by Cardinal Federigo in 1609, and the Bibliotheca Angelica, opened for public service in Rome, also in 1609.

Naudé's work was first translated into English by John Evelyn, and published as Instructions Concerning Erecting of a Library in 1651.

Clarke, Gabriel Naudé 1600-1653 (1970).

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The Earliest Documented 15th Century Printed Book in North America 1635

In 1635 Rev. John Norton brought to Plymouth, Massachusetts a copy of the Venice 1491 edition of St. Augustine's Opuscula.

Preserved in the Boston Public Library, it is the earliest documented 15th century book present in North America. 

In February 2014 a digital facsimile of the different copy of the same 1491 edition preserved at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek was available at this link.

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Foundation of Harvard College, the First Institution of Higher Learning in the U.S. 1636

Harvard College, the first institution of higher learning in the United States, was established in 1636 at Cambridge, Massachusetts by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and named for its first benefactor, John Harvard. Harvard was a minister who left a few hundred books and half his estate to the new institution.

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1650 – 1700

John Dury Writes the First Book on Librarianship in English 1650

The first English book on “library economy,” or library management, was a series of letters that Scottish minister and writer, John Dury, Keeper of the Royal Library from the death of Charles I until the Restoration, wrote on library and educational reform to his friend, the German-British polymath and educational reformer Samuel Hartlib. Hartlib published them in London as The Reformed Librarie Keeper in 1650. 

"One of the ways in which both Dury and Hartlib wished to promote educational reform and further knowledge was by exploiting the facilities of public libraries in London, Oxford, and Cambridge more efficiently. Dury expressed the hope that the work of the librarian might be as ‘a factor and trader for helpes to learning, a treasurer to keep them and a dispenser to apply them to use, or to see them well used, or at least not abused’ (Turnbull, p.257). The Reformed Librarie-Keeper printed various proposals for the organization and use of libraries, which Dury had originally advanced in 1646. It was published together with Dury’s plans for a reformed school in 1650. In that year, Dury was appointed keeper of the library of St James’s Palace (formerly the King’s Library), which was in a state of disorder. He installed new bookcases and urged that the trustees for the selling of the late king’s goods should draw up an inventory of the books and medals, both measures being intended to make the library usable to the public. A few years later, Dury and Henry Langley unsuccessfully proposed Hartlib for the post of Bodley’s Librarian.  

"As storehouses of learning, in which great strides had already been made to establish accurate classifications, libraries had the potential to be ideal embodiments of the Ark. But the poorly-funded libraries of interregnum England were too chaotic in organization and too inaccessible for ordinary readers to be able to fulfil the role in which Dury and Hartlib had cast them" (Museum of the History of Science, Oxford, "Hartlib Circle," http://www.mhs.ox.ac.uk/gatt/catalog.php?num=67, accessed 01-30-2012).

"In Dury's first letter we learn that the library keeper's only responsibility was to safeguard the collection. To do this, a man (note: not a woman) did not need to be particularly well educated. The pay was low, commensurate with the skill-level required for the job. Dury describes the service provided by "factors and traders," educated men who profited by traveling throughout Europe searching for books suitable for various collections. Dury faults that system because he believed that the "factors and traders" were more interested in profit-making than in learning. (He then kindly defends these men by pointing out that, after all, they have to make a living.) His idea was to enhance the job of the library-keeper to include the role of the trader. In order to do this, the position of library-keeper would have to provide enough pay to attract educated men. If the library wanted men who were broadly educated and interested in the advancement of learning, Dury suggested the pay scale, which then ranged between 50 and 100 Pounds a year, be raised to 200 Pounds. He recommended that potential employees be tested in order to prove they are familiar enough with the various disciplines of the day to accurately maintain the library catalog.  

"Dury felt that having trained library keepers was essential if libraries were to be made open to the public. The library-keeper's job would be extended to include recommending and annually defending additions to the collection before the faculty of the University. The library-keeper was to correspond with experts in every science throughout Europe (expenses to be paid by the University). The library keeper was also to be the reference person regarding the collection, in order to assist scholars. In addition he was to continue the role of safeguarding the collection, which, in a public library, meant overseeing collection use and maintaining the library catalog.  

"Dury notes that the catalog would need to be created first, however. He suggested that the catalog be arranged by subject matter, then divided by language. The catalog he had in mind would also contain a pointer to the physical position of the book within the library. That system would be designed well enough to allow for the growth of the collection. Moreover, an annual list of additions to the collection would be printed. The entire catalog would be printed and circulated to other libraries in Europe every three years (or more often if the library grows faster than expected). He also proposed that the University keep books that the library has acquired, by gifts or purchase, even if the faculty couldn't use them, as; "there is seldom any book that does not contain something useful." He suggested keeping them in a separate collection and creating a list that was indexed by subject and arranged alphabetically by author.

"Dury's second letter offers an argument to be used in defending the cost of establishing his proposed library before the British Parliament, which he thought should supply the necessary funding. He bases his argument on Christian moral grounds, reminding us that in his day the separation of church and state was not a popular idea. Dury saw the library as a place that would nourish the spirits of men. He criticizes private libraries as serving those that "pride themselves in the possession of that which others have not," men who "covetously obstruct the fountains of life and comfort." He complains that this "dilates the light of knowledge and the love of the grace and goodness in the hearts of all men." He argues that library should be "communicating all good things freely to others." He goes on to argue that the university library, by proving useful to scholars in other nations, would encourage them to adopt similar policies for their own libraries, thus bringing honor to England. Finally, he warns that if the library is administered without relation to Christ's teachings, the endeavor is likely to lead to strife, confusion, and pride"(http://people.lis.illinois.edu/~chip/projects/timeline/1651robins.html, accessed 01-30-2012).

(This entry was last revised on 03-16-2014.)

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Samuel Pepys' Library: One of the Most Significant Private Libraries Preserved Intact from 17th Century England, in its Original Bookcases Circa 1650 – 1703

A painting of Samuel Pepys by John Hayls, 1666.

The title page of Newton's Principia.

The library of diarist Samuel Pepys is one of the most significant private libraries preserved intact from seventeenth century England. At Pepys's death in 1703 it included more than 3,000 volumes, including his diary, kept from 1600-1669, all carefully catalogued and indexed. Preserved at Magdalene College, Cambridge, the library, most of which Pepys collected during the last thirteen years of his life, is arranged by size, from No. 1 (the smallest) to No. 3,000 (the largest), and housed in the original twelve seventeenth-century oak bookcases just as Pepys arranged it.  A peculiarity of Pepys's arrangement was that he wanted each book on each shelf to be the same height, and when any book was shorter than the others he had a wooden base made for it, the visible portion of which was rounded and covered in tooled leather to resemble the spine of the book which would sit on it. Pepys's bookcases, also called presses, are among the earliest surviving examples of bookcases in the modern sense. The fine bindings on the books, mostly done for Pepys, are also significant.

Among the most famous items in the Library are the original bound manuscripts of Pepys's diary, and Pepys's copy of the first edition of Newton's Principia (1687), published under Pepys's imprimatur as President of the Royal Society. The library also includes remarkable holdings of incunabula, manuscripts, and printed ballads.

"Most of his [Pepys's] leisure he now spent on his library. He intensified his search for books and prints, setting himself a target of 3000 volumes. Pepys and his library clerk devised a great three-volume catalogue; collated Pepysian copies with those in other collections; adorned volume upon volume with exquisite title pages written calligraphically by assistants; pasted prints into their guard-books; and inserted indexes and lists of contents" (http://www.magd.cam.ac.uk/pepys/latham.html, accessed 02-28-2015).

Pepys made detailed provisions in his will for the preservation of his book collection. When his nephew and heir, John Jackson, died in 1723, it was transferred intact to the Pepys Library, kept in the Pepys Building on the grounds of Magdalene College.

Hobson, Great Libraries (1970) 212-221.

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Chetham's Library: the First Free Public Reference Library in the United Kingdom 1653

A portrait of Humphrey Chetham, now in the library reading room.

A modern photograph of the Library Reading Room.

Chetham’s Library in Manchester, England, established in 1653 under the will of merchant Humphrey Chetham, for the education of "the sons of honest, industrious and painful parents", and as a library for the use of scholars. is the oldest free public reference library in the United Kingdom, and perhaps the first free public library in the English speaking world.

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Filed under: Libraries

Michel de Marolles Writes the First Book on Print Collecting 1666

In 1666 French churchman, translator, and print collector Michel de Marolles, abbé de Villeloin, published in Paris at the press of F. Leonard Catalogue de livres d’estampes et de figures en taille douce, the first book on print collecting. Marolles had his collection of 123,400 engravings "by more than 6,000 masters" bound into 400 large volumes (p. 15). He arranged the collection into schools, and in his preliminary and concluding essays he illuminated market conditions and the methods and tastes of fellow collectors. He also documented the relative weighting, in acquisition decisions, of physical condition, rarity, provenance, artist, engraver and the beauty of the image. Perhaps as a result of this book Louis XIV's finance minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, purchased Marolles' print collection for 26,000 livres, and it became the basis of the Cabinét des Estampes at the Bibliothèque royale (Bibliothèque nationale de France).

In his Discours en forme de préface (19pp.) Marolles described his project for a History of Painters (Histoire des peintures). Not having a family, he wrote that he put together this catalogue in case he would need to sell his collection. In his book Les Amateurs d'autrefois (1877) museum director, art historian and collector Louis Clément de Ris told of searching unsuccessfully for the terms of Marolles' deal with Colbert. Not finding any record, de Ris suspected that Marolles' may have sold the collection discretely, and that Colbert requested the catalogue.

Marolles distinguished "originals", i.e. those engraved by the master, from those engraved by others. He identified a substantial number of engravers, and he explained to other collectors how to arrange their collections into albums. He also listed the plates in many famous illustrated books subjects like cartography, architecture, travel.

In February 2015 it was my pleasure to acquire for my collection a copy of Marolles' work in a contemporary French red morocco binding. This book, which I bought from Jean-Baptiste de Proyart, was formerly in the library of the distinguished collector and connoiseur Hans (Jean) Fürstenberg.

Schanapper, Curieux du grand siècle, Collections et collectionneurs dans la France du XVIIe siècle II. Oeuvres d'art (1994) 247-48.

In March 2015 a reproduction of an excellent engraved portrait of Marolles by Claude Mellan, and dated 1648, was available from the Art Gallery of New South Wales at this link.

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Joachim Johann Maders Issues the First Anthology on Libraries and Library Science 1666

In 1666 Joachim Johann Mader published the first anthology of texts on libraries, archives and "library science": De bibliothecis atque archivis virorum clarissimorum libelli et commentationes. Cum praefatione  de scriptis et bibliothecis antediluvianis. 

"The work is prefaced by his account of antediluvian libraries—those of Adam, Noah, etc., and then follow several monographs from such authors as Justus Lipsius, Franz Schott, Fulvio Orsino, Michael Neander, and pieces on the Vatican and Escorial libraries"  (Catalogus Catalogorum [Predominantly Post-1900]. Part III of the Private Library of Hans P. Kraus. Catalogue 190, H. P. Kraus [company,] no. 538).

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Construction of Samuel Pepys's Bookshelves -- Among the Earliest Extant August 17, 1667

On August 17, 1667 Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

"So took up my wife and home, there I to the office, and thence with Sympson, the joyner home to put together the press he hath brought me for my books this day, which pleases me exceedingly."

and a few days later he wrote:

"and then comes Sympson to set up my other new presses for my books, and so he and I fell into the furnishing of my new closett ... so I think it will be as noble a closett as any man hath."

"The surviving bookcases have paired glazed doors each in 21 small panes, over a low section, also with glazed panes, made to hold large folio volumes. The door of the lower section slide to the side like a sash window, probably Pepys' own invention. The base moldings and cornices are finely and robustly carved with acanthus leaf. Such tall bookcases with doors glazed like paned windows, were a contemporary innovation, but Pepys was alert and curious and well-connected in London, and there is no reason to think his "book-presses" were the very first with glass-paned doors. Pepys began with three or four and kept adding to them until he had twelve" (Wikipedia article on Sympson the joyner, accessed 02-18-2009).

Wormald & Wright, The English Library before 1700 (1958) illustrate as plate 2 a drawing preserved in the Pepysian Library showing how the bookcases were originally arranged in Pepys' house in York Buildings before they were moved to Magdalene College, Cambridge.

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"On the Burning of a Library": A Work of Self-Consolation 1670

As a result of the burning of his home and the destruction of his library, which included numerous unpublished manuscripts on a wide range of subjects, in 1670 Danish physician and anatomist, Thomas Bartholin, published in Copenhagen (København) De bibliothecae incendio, a work of self-consolation. In this work Bartholin recounted examples in history of other library losses through fire, and catalogued and summarized the vast amount of his intellectual work that was "lost to Vulcan." He also consoled himself with a bibliographical list of his works that had already been published in print, and thus had their content protected from catastrophic loss from fire:

"Books are not so readily exposed to destruction if they have multiplied themselves by the aid of type so that they may be read in more than a thousand copies dispersed throughout the earth, unless this universe which we inhabit be subjected to common ruin or flames spread themselves to all corners of the earth. It is by the benefit of divine art that I am as yet able to collect or seek again from friends or from booksellers my other works which were previously published. If judgment in this matter had been left in the hands of Vulcan, I should be bereft even of this small portion of my books. Unless it is burdensome to the reader, I shall subjoin a catalogue of my personal library constructed from works hitherto published in my name or dedicated to me, which Vulcan consumed with the rest, but with less harm to me since they are available elsewhere." (p. 32).

Bartholin then listed 129 printed works either written and published by him or dedicated to him.  At the end of De bibliothecae incendio Bartholin expressed gratitude that he survived the fire even if his "brain-children" were sacrified, and thanks the king, Christian V, for his support after this tragedy. By this time Bartholin was regarded as the leading physician in Denmark, and because of this tragic accident the king of Denmark freed Bartholin's estate of all taxes and appointed Bartholin his personal physician, with handsome compensation.

♦ Bartholin's work reflects a scholarly perspective very different from our time, and also exhibits what would have to be called credulity, especially with the following reference to Homer written in gold on a dragon's intestine—a story which, according to Bartholin, was repeated by several authorities:

"The library of Constantinople, founded by Theodosius the younger in 473, and a rival to that of Ptolemy [i.e. the Library of Alexandria], in the reign of the Emperor Zeno was consumed by a fire instigated by the leader of the image-breakers, the [later] Emperor Leo the Isaurian. Earlier, in the time of Basilicus Tyrannus, the same library had perished in flames aroused by the plebs in their hatred of Basilicus [Basiliscus], and among the books was the intestine of a dragon twenty feet long on which the Iliad and the Odyssey of Homer had been written in letters of gold. But Claudius Clemens in his Bibliothecae Instructio considers that it had been snatched from the conflagration, because when Leo the Isaurian, struck by a mad fury against the sacred images, burned whatsoever volumes had been restored of the thirty-three thousand of the library, Constantinus, Cedrenus, Zonaras and Glycas testify that the intestine was still there, unless perchance, in a kind of veneration a new one had been fashioned in imitation of the former intestine which had perished in the first fire. According to the Annals of Constantinus Manassus [Manasses], translated by Lewenclavius, in which the fire is well described, I am disposed to consider the one instigated by Leo III, the Isaurian, as the first." (p.7.)

Bartholin, On the Burning of His Library and On Medical Travel, translated by C. D. O'Malley (1961) 7, 32. (Bracketed insertions and hyperlinks are my additions.)

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The First Book Auction in England October 31, 1676

The first auction sale of a library in England was the library of clergyman Lazarus Seaman sold on October 31, 1676. Bookseller William Cooper published a catalogue of the sale, which took place at Seaman's house:

Catalogus variorum & insignium librorum instructissimæ bibliothecæ clarissimi doctissimiq[ue] viri Lazari Seaman, S.T.D. Quorum auctio habebitur Londini in ædibus defuncti in area & viculo Warwicensi, Octobris ultimo. Cura Gulielmi Cooper bibliopolæ.

Though the main body of the catalogue was in Latin, Cooper took care to publish his conditions of sale in English. In his Foreword to Munby & Coral, British Book Sale Catalogues 1676-1800: A Union List (1977) Anthony Hobson reproduced the Address to the Reader published in the Seaman catalogue as "the ancestor of all subsequent 'Conditions of Sale' ":

"To the Reader.


"It has not been usual here in England to make Sales of BOOKS by way of Auction, or who will give most for them: But it having been practised in other Countreys to the Advantage both of Buyers and Sellers; It was therefore conceived (for the Encouragement of Learning) to publish the Sale of these Books in this manner of way; and it is hoped that this will not be unacceptable to Schollers; and therefore we thought it convenient to give an Advertisement concerning the manner of proceeding therein.

"First, That having this Catalogue of the Books, and their Editions under their several Heads and Numbers, it will be more easie for any Personal of Quality, Gentlemen, or others, to Depute any one to Buy such Books for them as they shall desire, if their occasions will not permit them to be present at the Auction themselves.

"Secondly, That those which bid most are the Buyers; and if any manifest Differences should arise, that then the same Book or Books shalle forthwith exposed again to Sale, and highest bidder to have the same.

"Thirdly, That all the Books according to the Catalogue are (for so much as know) perfect, and sold as such; But if any of them appear to be otherwise before they be taken away, the Buyer shall have his choice of taking or leaving the same.

"Fourthly, That the Mony for the Books bought, be paid at the Delivery of them, within one Month's time after the Auction is ended.

"Fifthly, That the Auction will begin the 31st of October at the Deceased Dr's House in Warwick Court in Warwick lane punctually at Nine of the Clock in the Morning, and Two in the Afternoon, and this to continue daily until all the Books be Sold. Wherefore it is desired, that the Gentlemen, or those Deputed by them, may be there precisely at the Hours appointed, lest they should miss the opportunity of Buying those Books, which either themselves or their Friends desire" (Hobson, op cit. x-xi).;

ESTC System No. 006092171; ESTC Citation No. R25610. 

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The Bibliotheque du Roi Opens to the Public 1692

Having been expanded under Louis XIV, the Bibliothèque du Roi, now the Bibliothèque national de France, first opened to the public in 1692, under the administration of Abbé Louvois, Abbé Louvois was succeeded by the Abbé Bignon, who instituted a complete reform of the library's system. Catalogues of the collections were published from 1739–53 in 11 volumes.

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Filed under: Libraries

The First Book Catalogue Published in America 1693

The first book catalogue published in North America was the auction catalogue of the library of the non-conformist minister and natural philosopher Rev. Samuel Lee (1625?-91) issued in Boston by bookseller Duncan Cambell (d. 1702). It is known from a single surviving copy preserved in the Boston Public Library:

The library of the late Reverend and learned Mr. Samuel Lee. Containing a choice variety of books upon all subjects; particularly, commentaries on the Bible; bodies of divinity. The works as well of the ancient, as of the modern divines; treatises on the mathematicks, in all parts; history, antiquities; natural philosophy [,] physick, and chymistry; with grammar and school-books. With many more choice books not mentioned in this catalogue. Exposed at the most easy rates, to sale, by Duncan Cambell, bookseller at the dock-head over against the conduit.

"Bookseller's catalogue: 1200 short author entries, in Latin and English, arranged (not entirely consistently) by subject, within subject by language (either Latin or English), and within language by format. The subject headings are divinity (by far the largest); physical books (medicine and science); philosophy, cosmography & geography; mathematical, astrological and astronomical books; history, school authors; juris prudentia, miscellanie, and three miscellaneous lots of consecutively numbered entries"(Winans, A Descriptive Checklist of Book Catalogues Separately Printed in America 1693-1800 [1981] no. 1).

ESTC System No. 006467597; ESTC Citation No. W19259.

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The First Country-Wide Printed Union Catalogue of Manuscripts 1697

In 1697, the year of the death of English astronomer and scholar Edward BernardCatalogi librorum manuscriptorum Angliae et Hiberniae in unum collecti cum indice alphabeticum was issued from Oxford at the Sheldonian Theatre, in two folio volumes. Listing around 30,000 manuscripts, this was the first printed attempt at a union catalogue of manuscripts for a country—England, including Ireland, the conquest of which had been completed by the British in 1691.  Centuries earlier in the Middle Ages union catalogues of manuscripts had been compiled in England. About 1320 Oxford Franciscans had compiled, on the basis of on-site surveys, the Registrum Anglie de libris doctorum et auctorum ueterum — a manuscript union catalogue of some 1400 manuscript books in England, Scotland and Wales, and around 1350 the Benedictine monk Henry of Kirkestede, prior of the royal abbey of St. Edmund at Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk—traditionally known as Boston Burienis, compiled a union catalogue of manuscripts in English libraries entitled Catalogus de libris autenticis et aposcrifis

Bernard had worked on the catalogue for years when in 1692

"a movement started in Oxford to follow up the catalogue of printed books in Bodley with a catalogue of the manuscripts there and in college libraries. Dr. Edwards, Principal of Jesus, approached the curators of the Clarendon Press, who accepted the proposal. The scheme was enlarged to include the collections in Cambridge and in cathedral libraries and finally in private libraries. Cambridge kept aloof; only four colleges sent their catalogues, and the University Library and the remaining colleges were represented only by a reprint of the lists made by Thomas James in 1600. Bernard was in ill health and died on 12 January, 1697, while the book was still in the press" (Simpson, Proof-Reading in the Sixteenth, Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries [1970] 189, see also 190-94).

Though the printed catalogue identified Edward Bernard as the only author, it was actually a cooperative venture compiled by several scholars. Arthur Charlette, Master of University College, Oxford, seems to have been in charge of gathering information for the catalogue. However, the most significant contributor other than Bernard was probably the Harleian librarian, palaeographer and scholar of Old English Humpfrey Wanley. Wanley researched holdings of collectors in England whose libraries needed to be included, and was the author of four catalogues of holdings within the union catalogue: (1) the Free School at Coventry, (2) Basil Fielding, 4th Earl of Denbigh (3) St. Mary's Church, Warwick, and (4) John Ayres. Wanley also compiled the index to the entire work, wrote the Preface and corrected some of the proofs. References to Wanley's work on the catalogue appear in his letters. See Letters of Humfrey Wanley, Palaeographer, Anglo-Saxonist, Librarian, 1672-1726, Edited by P. L. Heyworth (1989). 

The catalogue is notable for containing the holdings of numerous significant private collectors as well as institutional libraries. Among the better-remembered collectors whose manuscripts are recorded are Samuel Pepys, John EveynWilliam Laud, Thomas Bodley, John Leland, Roger Dodsworth, Richard James, Robert Huntington, and Antony Wood. The crucial holdings of Sir Robert Cotton were not included in Bernard's catalogue because just one year earlier Thomas Smith's Catalogus librorum manuscriptorum bibliothecae Cottonianae had been issued in identical format by the same printer. My copy of Bernard's catalogue was bound at the time with Smith's catalogue of the Cottonian library at the back of its second volume. It would appear that the two works were intended to supplement one another. 

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First Public Lending Library in North America 1698

The St. Phillips Episcopal Church Parsonage Provincial Library in Charleston, South Carolina, was founded in 1698. It was the first public lending library in the American Colonies.

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Filed under: Libraries

A Visionary Library Cataloguing Scheme That Was Not Realized 1698

In 1684 the librarian of the Bibliothèque du roi in Paris, Nicolas Clément, completed a catalogue in manuscript of the library according to a classification system of Clement's design. He classified manuscripts by language, format and materials within formats. Printed books he arranged in 23 classes by a letter of the alphabet. This basic system, known as "lettrage Clément," was maintained by the Bibliothèque nationale de France until 1999.

By 1688 the growth of the collections in the Bibliothèque du roi made Clément's catalogue inadequate, and he and his staff embarked on the project of compiling a new one, which was eventually completed in 1714. In an attempt to create a more useful catalogue in 1698 Danish scholar Fredéric de Rostgaard proposed a new method for arranging a library catalogue in a letter to Clément. This was published as a pamphlet entitled Projet d'une nouvelle methode pour desser le catalogue d'une bibliotheque selon les matieres avec le plan. Relatively few copies were printed but the pamphlet appears to have undergone two editions in 1698. The second, augmented edition was reprinted by Johann David Köhler in Sylloge aliquot scriptorum de bene ordinanda et ornanda bibliotheca studio et opera (1728). Rostgaard's scheme never seems to have been implemented; however, it may be summarized as follows:

Rostgaard called for a subject arrangement subdivided chronologically and by format. His goal was to organize the catalogue so that authors writing on the same subject and all editions of the same work were found together. These goals he proposed to achieve through a printed catalogue. Printing the catalogue of a large institutional library was itself a radical idea in the seventeenth century as the Bibliothèque du roi and other institutional libraries traditionally maintained their catalogues in manuscript volumes, which had to be consulted in the library.

Rostgaard illustrated examples of his cataloguing scheme in his pamphlet, showing the spread of two facing pages divided into four parallel columins, each column containing books of a certain format arranged so that books of various formats published on a certain subject within the same year would appear opposite one another in parallel columns. He also called for a secondary arrangement in which books which entirely concern a subject appear before those in which only a part concern a specific subject.

At the end of his proposed catalogue Rostgaard provided instructions for an alphabetical index of subjects and authors, with authors entered by surname. He expected works bound together to have separate entries for each title, and expected the word order of titles as found on the title page of each work to be preserved in the catalogue. Whenever authorship of anonymous works was known he expected that to be identified in the catalogue

Strout, "The Development of the Catalog and Cataloging Codes," Library Quarterly 26 (1956) 254-275.

Delisle, "Notice sur les anciens catalogues des livres imprimés de la Bibliothèque du roi," Bibliothèque de l'école des chartes," 43 (1882) 165-201.  

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1700 – 1750

The Bigot Sale, the First Book Auction Conducted in Paris for Which a Catalogue was Printed July – December 1706

The sale by auction of the Bigot family library was conducted by booksellers Jean Boudot, Charles Osmont and Gabriel Martin over the remarkably long duration of five months from July to December, 1706. Prior to this auction several auction catalogues for private libraries were printed in Paris but the libraries were sold privately before auctions could occur. The Bigot sale was in five parts comprising 450 manuscripts and over 15,000 printed books. It was the first book auction conducted in Paris for which a catalogue was published and the first of the 125 auctions conducted by Gabriel Martin, which, over the course of 25 years, established Paris as the leading center for book auctions.

Bookseller, publisher and writer Prosper Marchand organized and catalogued the sale for Martin and Osmont. One of the ways in which the sale was notable was in its introduction of the classification scheme which divided information into five great divisions that Marchand borrowed from the seventeenth century astonomer, scientific intermediator, and librarian, Ismaël Boulliau (Bullialdus). Gabriel Martin promoted this scheme, which originated in the seventeenth century, and may have first been applied in the catalogue of the library of Jacques Auguste de Thou, the Catalogus Bibliothecae Thuanae (1679). The scheme categorized information into the following subject areas: theology, jurisprudence, sciences and arts (initially called philosophy in this catalogue), belles-lettres (humane letters), and history. Book auctions in France would follow this scheme throughout the 18th century, and in the early 19th century Jacques Charles Brunet elaborated on this basic scheme in his Manuel du Libraire et de l'amateur de livres (1810). See Berkvens-Stevelink, Prosper Marchand: la vie et oeuvre (1987) 11-22.

The published auction catalogue was entitled Bibliotheca Bigotiana; seu, Catalogus librorum, quos (dum viverent) summâ curâ & industriâ, ingentique sumptu congressêre vir clarissimi DD. uterque Joannes, Nicolaus, & Lud. Emericus Bigotii, domini de Sommesnil & de Cleuville. . . . 

The Library was begun by Jean Bigot in the early 17th century, and continued by his son, Louis-Emery. It eventually passed to Robert Bigot, sieur de Monville, and was sold at his death in 1706. The library included that of Jean-Jacques de Mesmes, for whom Gabriel Naudé had written Avis pour dresser une bibliothèque in 1627. 

At the auction the abbé de Louvois purchased many books for the Bibliothèque du Roi. "This was Gabriel Martin's first catalogue, and according to Bléchet, Jean-Pierre Nicéron was an editor" (North, Printed Catalogues of French Book Auctions and Sales by Private Treaty 1643-1830 in the Library of the Grolier Club [2004] no. 12).

The Bigot manuscripts were purchased for the Bibliothèque du roi. Over 150 years later they were catalogued by Léopold Delisle as Bibliotheca Bigotiana Manuscripta. Catalogue des manuscrits rassemblés aux XVIIe siecle par les Bigot, mis en vente au mois de juillet 1706, aujourdhui conservé aux Bibliothèque nationale (1877).

Albert, Recherches sur les principes fondamentaux de la classification bibliographique. . . . (1847) 17-19.

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The Statute of Anne: The First Copyright Statute 1709

In 1709 British parliament enacted the Statute of Anne; short title: Copyright Act 1709 8 Anne c.21; long title: An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by vesting the Copies of Printed Books in the Authors or purchasers of such Copies, during the Times therein mentioned. Named after Anne, Queen of Great Britain, this was the first copyright statute in the Kingdom of Great Britain, and the first full-fledged copyright statute in the world. It was enacted in the regnal year 1709 to 1710, and entered into force on April 10, 1710.  

The Statute of Anne granted publishers of books legal protection for 14 years with the commencement of the statute. It also granted 21 years of protection for any book already in print. At the expiration of the first 14 year copyright term the copyright re-vested in its author, if he or she were still alive, for a further term of 14 years.

"The statute determined that the 'copy' was the 'sole liberty of printing and reprinting' a book and this liberty could be infringed by any person who printed, reprinted or imported the book without consent. Those infringing copyright had to pay a fine of one penny for every sheet of the book, one moiety of which went to the author, the other to the Crown. In today’s terms this was a considerable fine. In addition the book in question was to be destroyed. Leaving in place the existing system of registration, the statute specified that action against infringement could only be brought if the title had been entered in the register at the Stationers' Company before publication. The formal requirements of registration enabled users to locate the owners of copyrighted works. The requirement for copies of published books to be deposited in university libraries ensured that there was public access to copyrighted works.

"Authors' rights

"The statute was the first to recognise the legal right of authorship, but it did not provide a coherent understanding of authorship or authors' rights. While the statute established the author as legal owner, and so providing the basis for the development of authors' copyright, it also provided a 21 year copyright term to books already in print. At the end of the 21 years granted by the statute the concept of literary property was still a booksellers' rather than an author' concern, as most authors continued to sell their works outright to booksellers. Given that the statute primarily intended to encourage public learning and to regulate the book trade, any benefits for authors in the statute were incidental. Throughout the 18th century, at the encouragement of the booksellers, rather than the authors, an understanding emerged that copyright originated in author's rights to the product of his labour. Thus it was argued that the primary purpose of copyright was to protect authors' rights, not the policy goal of encouraging public learning" (Wikipedia article on Statute of Anne, accessed 08-06-2011).

In February 2014 a digital facsimile of the original UK Parliament manuscript copy of the act was available from Primary Sources on Copyright at this link.

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Johann Christian Koch Issues the First History of Library Classification Systems 1713

Schediasma de ordinanda bibliotheca issued in Leipzig in 1713 by the German minister and writer Johann Christian Koch, appears to be the first history of systems for organizing libraries, or of library classification systems. On the title page of this book Koch characterized himself as pastor in "Pago Lentz prope Haynam."  He was identified by Google books as "Superintendent in Bischofswerda," a small town in Germany at the western edge of Upper Lusatia in Saxony

I learned about this relatively obscure work from the introduction to Johann David Köhler's Sylloge aliquot scriptorum de bene ordinanda et ornanda bibliotheca (1728).

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Johann David Köhler Issues the First Anthology of Library Classification, Organization and Cataloguing Schemes 1728

Sylloge aliquot scriptorum et bene ordinanda et ornanda bibliotheca published in Frankfurt in 1728 was the first anthology of library classfication, organizational, and cataloguing schemes. It was edited by German historian and university librarian at Altdorf bei Nürnberg Johann David Köhler. In this anthology Köhler reprinted several treatises, which were presumably little known and difficult to find:

Jean Garnier, Systema bibliothecae collegii Parisiensis Societatis Iesu, Paris, 1678.

In this plan for arranging the library in the Collège de Clermont, Garnier proposed four general classes: Theology, Philosophy, History and Law.

Fréderic de Rostgaard, Projet d'une nouvelle method pour dresser le catalogue d'une bibliotheque selon les matieres avec le plan. Seconde edition augmentée de quelques articles tres-necessaires & mise en meilleur ordre. Paris, 1698.

Giusto Fontanini, Dispositio catalogi bibliothecae Josephi Renati Imperialis S.R.E. Diaconi Cardinalis S. Georgii. Secundum scientiarum, facultatum, artium et rerum classes. Rome, 1719.

Daniel William Moller, Commentatio de technophysionameis sive Germanice von Kunst-und Naturalien-Kammern. Altdorf, 1704.

Johann Jacob Moser, Bibliotheca manuscriptorum maxime anecdotorum eorumque historicorum. Nuremberg, 1722.

Issues of Köhler's work were published with and without the final text by Moser.

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Benjamin Franklin & Friends Found the Library Company of Philadelphia, the First Lending Library in America July 1, 1731

On July 1, 1731 Benajmin Franklin and a group of his Philadelphia friends seeking social, economic, intellectual and political advancement, formed a discussion group called "the Junto," also known as "The Leather Apron Club."  An offshoot of the Junto was the Library Company of Philadelphia, founded by Franklin and his friends to provide reference material to support research on subjects under discussion:

"In colonial Pennsylvania at the time there were not many books; Books from London booksellers were expensive to purchase and slow to arrive. Franklin and his friends were mostly of moderate means, and none alone could have afforded a representative library such as a gentleman of leisure might expect to assemble. By pooling their resources in pragmatic Franklinian fashion, as the Library Company's historian wrote, 'the contribution of each created the book capital of all.' The first librarian they hired was Louis Timothee, being America's first.

"Thus fifty subscribers invested 40 shillings each and promised to pay ten shillings a year thereafter to buy books and maintain a shareholder's library. Therefore, 'the Mother of all American subscription libraries; was established, and a list of desired books compiled in part by James Logan, 'the best Judge of Books in these parts,' was sent to London and by autumn the first books were on the shelves" (Wikipedia article on Library Company of Philadelphia, accessed 11-27-2011).

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Bernard de Montfaucon Issues the First Continent-Wide Union Catalogue of Manuscripts 1739

In 1739 French scholar and Benedictine monk Bernard de Montfaucon published Bibliotheca Bibliothecarum Manuscriptorum nova in Paris. A catalogue of all the manuscript collections in France and Italy with which Montfaucon was familiar, plus small sections on manuscripts in libraries in Germany, Netherlands and England, this 1669-page work in 2 folio volumes was the first attempt at a continent-wide catalogue of manuscripts. Its emphasis was on medieval and Renaissance texts.

Montfaucon began with a list of all the libraries, institutional and private, for which he published holdings. These included the well-known collections and those of medieval monasteries such as Bobbio, Corbie and Fulda, but also including lesser-known monastic libraries. Then he published a 250-page index of authors and codices.  The work then listed the manuscript contents of libraries by country beginning with Italy and the Vatican Library. The work ended with another 160-page index of authors and "rerum" (things). The comprehensive indices make it possible to locate manuscript texts by author and subject. As such it remains the most useful tool for checking the distribution of manuscript texts in European libraries, and their survival in institutions up to the first third of the eighteenth century.

Carter & Muir, Printing and the Mind of Man (1967) no. 175, note.

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1750 – 1800

The British Museum is Founded January 11, 1753

The will of English physician and naturalist Sir Hans Sloane bequeathed his collection of 70,000 objects, including a library, and an herbarium to Britain as the basis for the British Museum.

"When Sloane retired in 1741, his library and cabinet of curiosities . . . had grown to be of unique value. He had acquired the extensive natural history collections of William Courten, Cardinal Filippo Antonio Gualterio, James Petiver, Nehemiah Grew, Leonard Plukenet, the Duchess of Beaufort, the rev. Adam Buddle, Paul Hermann, Franz Kiggelaer and Herman Boerhaave. On his death on 11 January 1753 he bequeathed his books, manuscripts, prints, drawings, flora, fauna, medals, coins, seals, cameos and other curiosities to the nation, on condition that parliament should pay to his executors £20,000, which was a good deal less than the value of the collection. The bequest was accepted on those terms by an act passed the same year, and the collection, together with George II's royal library, etc., was opened to the public at Bloomsbury as the British Museum in 1759. A significant proportion of this collection was later to become the foundation for the Natural History Museum" (Wikipedia article on Sir Hans Sloane).

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George II Donates the "Old Royal Library" 1757

King George II donated the 'Old Royal Library' of the sovereigns of England to the British Museum. With that gift the British Museum obtained the privilege of acquiring books by copyright receipt.

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The British Museum Opens 1759

Having been founded in 1753 by the bequest of English physician Sir Hans Sloane, the British Museum opened to the public.

Sloane's library of about 40,000 volumes, especially significant for scientific and medical material, was among the largest formed in the eighteenth century. The British Museum retained all the Sloane manuscripts, but during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries they dispersed certain printed books from the collection as "duplicates." 

♦ The Sloane Printed Books Catalogue on the British Library website is a project to publish bibliographical descriptions of each volume in Sloane's original library from institutional holdings around the world.

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The Declaration of Independence is Approved and Printed July 4 – August 2, 1776

Detail of the Declaration of Independence of the United States.  Please click on link to view and resize entire image.

Detail of painting of John Dunlap by Rembrandt Peale.  Pelase click on link below to view and resize complete image.

On the night of July 4, 1776, by order of the Second Continental Congress, immediately after its approval of the text of the Declaration, Philadelphia printer John Dunlap printed approximately 200 copies of The Declaration of Independence as a broadside. The following day copies were delivered to the President of the Continental Congress, John Hancock, who sent them to the state governors on July 5 and 6.

The text of the Declaration was reprinted in the The Pennsylvania Evening Post newspaper for Saturday, July 6 (vol. II, number 228) published in Philadelphia by Benjamin Towne. This was the first newspaper printing and the second printing chronologically. Within a month of Dunlap's broadside printing a dozen regional broadside editions were printed, all of the greatest rarity, as far north as Salem, Massachusetts, and Exeter, New Hampshire, and as far south as Charleston, South Carolina. However, it is likely that even more Americans read the words of the Declaration in one of the many newspaper printings, of which Clarence Brigham identified thirty in the month of July 1776, produced in eighteen cities and towns ranging from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to Williamsburg, Virginia.

Copies of the Declaration of Indpendence were read publically by Colonel John Nixon from from a platform behind the Pennsylvania Statehouse (Independence Hall) on July 8, and on July 9 by George Washington on the commons of New York City to the Continental Army and local citizens, who celebrated by tearing down the statue of George III in Bowling Green. On July 28 Viscount Admiral Richard Howe of the British Navy intercepted a copy and dispatched it to London.

Regarding the first printing of the broadside:

"There is evidence that it was done quickly, and in excitement — watermarks are reversed, some copies look as if they were folded before the ink could dry and bits of punctuation move around from one copy to another. 'We were all in haste,' John Adams later wrote."

Surprisingly these printed broadsides, of which 25 copies survived in 2008, are the earliest records of the final draft of the document, as the original manuscript draft from which the broadside was printed no longer survives. 

The manuscript dated July 4, 1776 in the National Archives was back-dated. A fair copy of the Declaration of Independence, which Thomas Jefferson wrote out in the week after July 4, 1776, is preserved in the New York Public Library. This is one of two surviving fair copies in Jefferson's hand.

"A copy was also preserved by the Secretary of the Congress, Charles Thompson, in his minutes book; and it was to this text that a scribe, commissioned by the Congress, turned when preparing the ceremonial manuscript copy of the Declaration on parchment, preserved at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., which was signed by members of the Continental Congress on August 2, 1776. The printed Declaration of Independence thus predates the famous copy, signed by John Hancock et al., by nearly a month. The printed copy bears only the names, in type, of Hancock and Thompson on behalf of the Congress, and of the printer John Dunlap; it was the promulgation of an act of Congress and needed nothing more. The text of the ceremonial copy differs from that of the printed original only in its title: it became a “Unanimous Declaration” only later in July 1776, when New York State’s members of Congress changed their vote from abstention to the affirmative" (http://chapin.williams.edu/exhibits/founding.html#declaration, accessed 04-20-2012).

Brigham, History and Bibliography of American Newspapers (1947), 2:931–33. Walsh, "Contemporary Broadside Printings of the Declaration of Independence," Harvard Library Bulletin, 3 (1949).

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"Paper Architect" Etienne-Louis Boullée Envisages In One Gigantic Reading Room the Entire "Memory of the World" 1784 – 1785

In 1785 French architect Etienne-Louis Boullée proposed a reconstruction of the Bibliothèque du Roi that would contain in one gigantic reading room the entire "memory of the world." The library was never built. Boullée seems to have been an architectural visionary, most, if not all of whose schemes were never realized. Thus he is sometimes called a "paper architect."

The year before, in 1784, Boullée designed an even more visionary cenotaph for Isaac Newton, who had been dead for 57 years. Boulée's drawing shows the outside of the Newton cenotaph. Except for the tiny trees, the drawing does not convey the enormous scale of the monument; the sphere would have been nearly 500 feet across and 500 feet high. Boullée envisaged that during the day sunlight would shine through countless small holes drilled through the top of the dome, so that from the inside, the interior of the dome would light up like the night sky. A detail from the previous drawing with tiny human figures are at the bottom provide a better representation of the scale of the design. At night the dome would have been dark, but there would have been a very large armillary model of the solar system hanging from the ceiling, with the sun shining brightly at its center. Thus when it was day outside, it would have been night inside, and vice versa— a clever and dramatic twist on the natural order of things. 

My thanks to William B. Ashworth, Jr. for bringing the drawings and thoughts about Boulée's cenotaph to my attention.

Boulée's drawings are preserved in the Bibliothèque nationale de France. 

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The First Catalogue of the British Museum Library is Published 1787

The British Museum published the first catalogue of its library, Librorum impressorum qui in Museo Britannico adservantur catalogus, in 1786.

Breslauer & Folter, Bibliography: Its History and Development (1984) no. 109.

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The First National Code of Descriptive Cataloging--Early Use of Cards in Cataloging Books 1791

The French Revolutionary government issued the French Cataloging Code of 1791 for the cataloging of libraries seized from religious houses. These books were ordered to be brought to literary depots at several locations in Paris. The code was published by the Imprimerie nationale as a 15-page pamphlet entitled Instruction pour procéder à la confection due Catalogue de chacune des Bibliothèques sur lesquelles les Directoires ont dû ou doivent incessamment apposer les scellés. The staff at each literary depot was to record on cards the basic particulars about each item held. These cards were then bound up in bundles and sent to the Paris Bureau de Bibliographie. Because of wartime shortages, the blank backs of confiscated playing cards were used to record the information. This may be the earliest documentation of the use of cards for the production of library catalogs.

The title page was transcribed on the card and the author’s surname underlined for the filing word. If there was no author, a keyword in the title was underlined. A collation was added that was to include number of volumes, size, a statement of illustration, the material of which the book was made, the kind of type, any missing pages, and a description of the binding if it was outstanding in any way. The collation was partly for the purpose of identifying valuable books that the government might offer for sale in order to increase government revenue.

After the cards were filled in and put in order by underlined filing word, they were strung together by running a needle and thread through the lower left hand corners to keep them in order.

Joseph Smally, "The French Cataloging Code of 1791: A Translation," The Library Quarterly, 61 Number 1 (January 1991) 1–14.

(This entry was last revised on 06-28-2014.)

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Jeremy Belknap Founds the First Historical Society in the United States January 24, 1791

On January 24, 1791 American clergyman and historian Jeremy Belknap founded the Massachusetts Historical Society, the first historical society in the United States.

"As he [Belknap] envisioned it, the MHS would become a repository and a publisher collecting, preserving, and disseminating resources for the study of American history. Through their pledges of family papers, books, and artifacts the founding members made the Society the nation's most important historical repository by the end of their initial meeting. With the appearance of their first title at the start of 1792, they also made the MHS the nation's first institution of any description to publish in its field."

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Thomas Jefferson Describes Printing as a Way to Preserve Information February 18, 1791

In a letter to Ebenezer Hazard written during Jefferson's tenure as Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson wrote concerning the preservation of information:

". . . let us save what remains: not by vaults and locks which fence them from the public eye and use in consigning them to the waste of time, but by such a multiplication of copies, as shall place them beyond the reach of accident."

Jefferson's idea of preserving texts by distributing copies had been anticipated by exponents of the new invention of printing by movable type in the second half of the fifteenth century who believed, and rightly so, that printing an edition of a text that might survive in only one or a handful of manuscript copies was a way of safeguarding the existence of the text.

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The Bibliothèque nationale de France Becomes the First Free Public National Library 1793

By an act of the revolutionary French National Convention, the Bibliothèque nationale de France became the first free public national library in the world in 1793.

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Henri Grégoire Proposes a National Bibliography of France 1793 – 1794

French Catholic priest and revolutionary leader Henri Grégoire (Abbé Grégoire) published Instruction Publique. Rapport sur la bibliographie, delivered at the Convention nationale, seance du 22 Germinal, l'a 2 de la République. I have two different typeset versions of this pamphlet in my library, both of which consist of 16pp.  That with the colophon: DE L'IMPRIMERIE NATIONALE on the last leaf would appear to be first.

Grégoire believed that a French national bibliography would furnish material for :

1) a new history of France

2) a dictionary of pseudonymous and anonymous literature

3) a new geneological table of human knowledge

4) paleography of the French language, "which will be from now on the language of liberty."

By exchanging duplicates of rare and very expensive volumes, including specifically incunabula printed on vellum, the Bibliothèque nationale could be completed. (p. 11)

Abbé Grégoire hoped that the French government would sponsor this project, which it did not.  Had it done so, this would have been the first government-sponsored national bibliography.

Grégoire also condemned the recent destruction of libraries during the Revolutionary violence, and celebrated the arrival in Paris of a copy of Titus Livius, Historiae Romanae decades, edited by Joannes Andrea Bussi, bishop of Aleria. Venice: Vindelinus de Spira, 1470.  ISTC No.: il00238000. To Grégoire the copy was notable not only because of its rarity but because during a seige a bullet broke through its covers and margins without damaging the text (Grégoire p. 11).

An English translation of Grégoire's work was published in Philadelphia by Benjamin Franklin Bache in 1794: National Convention. Report on the means of compleating and distributing the National Library Made in the name of the Committee of Public Instruction, the 22d germinal, second year of the Republic. (April 11, 1794.) 

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1800 – 1850

President John Adams Signs Initial Funding of the Library of Congress April 24, 1800

On April 24, 1800 President John Adams signed legislation providing $5000 to purchase books as necessary for the “use of Congress.”

This was the origin of the Library of Congress. The Library was originally housed in the United States Capitol building.

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First Report on the Organization of the Library of Congress December 18, 1801

On December 18, 1801 Congressman John Randolph of Virginia issued his Report of the Joint Committee Appointed to Take into Consideration the Arrangement of Books and Maps Belonging to Congress. This six-page pamphlet was instrumental in the organization of the Library of Congress.

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Filed under: Libraries

The First Catalogue of the Library of Congress is Published April 1802 – October 1803

The first catalogue of the Library of Congress was a ten-page pamphlet issued in April 1802: Catalogue of Books, Maps, and Charts, Belonging to the Library of the Two Houses of Congress. This listed the original collection according to size: folios, quartos, octavos, and duodecimos, with estimated values for each, followed by nine maps and charts. 

In October 1803 the first supplement appeared: Supplemental Catalogue of Books, Maps, Charts, Belonging to the Library of the Two Houses of Congress. This 7-page pamphlet listed 180 volumes added since April 1802.

Sabin 15560 & 15561.

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The Roxburghe Club, the Oldest Society of Bibliophiles is Founded June 16, 1812

The Roxburghe Club, the oldest society of bibliophiles in the world, was founded on June 16, 1812. Membership was limited to 40.

"The Club came into existence on 16 June 1812 when a group of book-collectors and bibliophiles, inspired by the Revd Thomas Dibdin, panegyrist of Lord Spencer, the greatest collector of the age, dined together on the eve of the sale of John, Duke of Roxburghe’s library, which took place on the following day. This was the greatest private library of the previous age, and the sale was confidently expected to break all records, and it did. The first edition of Boccaccio (then believed to be unique) printed in 1471 made £2,260, a record that stood for more than sixty years, and the Duke’s Caxtons made equally high prices. The diners decided that this occasion should not be forgotten and so they dined again together the next year on June 17, the anniversary of the sale, and again the year after. So the Roxburghe Club was born and its members still dine together each year on, or about, that memorable day" (The Roxburghe Club website).

The archives of The Roxburghe Club are maintained at Arundel Castle, West Sussex.

Barker, Nicolas. The Roxburghe Club. A Bicentenary History (2012).

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The Library of Congress is Destroyed During the War of 1812 August 25, 1814

During the War of 1812 British Troops set fire to the U.S. Capitol building, burning, among other things, the Library of Congress, which then contained 3,000 volumes.

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Thomas Jefferson's Library Becomes the Core of the New Library of Congress Circa September 1814

Within a month after the burning of the Library of Congress in the United States Capitol building, in September 1814 President Thomas Jefferson offered his personal library as a replacement. Jefferson spent 50 years accumulating 6,487 books, "putting by everything which related to America, and indeed whatever was rare and valuable in every science." His library was considered one of the finest in the United States.

Heavily indebted, Jefferson sought to use the proceeds of the sale of his library to satisfy his creditors. He anticipated controversy over the nature of his collection, which included books in foreign languages and volumes of philosophy, science, literature, and other topics not normally viewed as part of a legislative library. He wrote: "I do not know that it contains any branch of science which Congress would wish to exclude from their collection; there is, in fact, no subject to which a Member of Congress may not have occasion to refer."

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Congress Buys Thomas Jefferson's Library January 1815

In January 1815 Congress appropriated $23,950 for Thomas Jefferson's library of 6,487 books which he had collected over the previous fifty years, laying a new intellectual foundation, universal in scope, for the Library of Congress. The purchase price was estimated to be half of the value that the books would have realized at auction.

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George Watterson Issues the First Extensive Catalogue of the Library of Congress November 1815

In November 1815 George Watterson, Librarian of Congress, published Catalogue of the Library of the United States. To Which is Annexed a Copious Index, Alphabeticaly Arranged. This work of 170 pages and 32 pages of index, was printed for Congress by Jonathan Elliot and issued from Washington. It represented the catalogue of the library of Thomas Jefferson, the foundation of the Library of Congress.

"In it each entry was numbered, not serially, but with the number corresponding with Jefferson's shelf-mark. This number was also inserted in the bookplate, purchased from William Elliot in October 1815, and pasted into each volume. The manuscript catalogue written by Jefferson and submitted to Congress for the purposes of the sale (through Samuel Harrison Smith) in 1814, seems to have been the 'fair copy of the Catalogue of my library' which he had made in 1812. This was later taken away by George Watterson and has now disappeared . . . [Another] catalogue was originally written by Jefferson in 1783, and is so dated by him on the fly-leaf; it was added to and supplemented continuously until the time of the negotiations for the sale in 1814' - Sowerby.

"The present catalogue differs dramatically in arrangement from Jefferson's original system of classification. Jefferson had organized his library according to a system derived from Book 2 of Francis Bacon's ADVANCEMENT OF LEARNING. Beginning with Bacon's three categories of knowledge (memory, reason, and imagination), Jefferson devised forty-four classes or 'chapters.' Within chapters, the books were arranged sometimes analytically, sometimes chronologically, or both, and were subjected to further classification by size. While this method served Jefferson well and offered illuminating intellectual bridges between diverse fields, Watterson recognized the difficulty the average patron might have in accessing the books for which he might be searching. To remedy this problem, in the present catalogue Watterson arranged the catalogue alphabetically within each chapter by first word of the title without being prejudiced towards definite and indefinite articles. Both Watterson and Jefferson realized the imperfections of this new system, but once in place it proved too large a task to rectify it" (William Reese Company, online description, accessed from ILAB website 07-21-2009).

In 1820 Congress published Supplement to the Catalogue of the Library of Congress. This 28-page pamphlet listed approximately 700 titles acquired since the acquisition of Thomas Jefferson's library, with a focus on travels and voyages, the sciences, and European history. Sabin 15566.

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Foundation of the Ecole nationale des chartes February 22, 1821

On February 22, 1821 the École nationale des chartes, an elite French university-level institution providing education and training for archivists and librarians, was founded by royal ordinance at the Bibliothèque royale, predecessor of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

The school closed in 1823, and reopened following a new ordinance of November 11, 1829. In 1862 the school moved to a site close to the Archives nationales, and later still to the Sorbonne, to facilities intended for the suppressed theology department.

Moore, Restoring Order. The Ecole des Chartes and the Organization of Archives and Libraries in France, 1820-1870 (2008).

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The First Attempt Since that of Montfaucon (1739) to Publish a Union Catalogue of Manuscripts in European Libraries 1830 – 1853

In 1830 German jurist, legal historian and paleographer Gustav Friedrich Haenel (Hänel) published in Leipzig Catalogi librorum manuscriptorum, qui in bibliothecis Galliae, Helvetiae, Belgii, Britanniae M., Hispaniae, Lusitaniae asservantur. This work, with approximately 620 pages published in a single quarto volume, was the first attempt since that of Montfaucon in 1739 to publish a union catalogue of manuscripts in European libraries. In this work Haenel left out the vast holdings of the entire Italian peninsula and Germany. Besides listings of manuscripts, Haenel, who visited many of the libraries covered, sometimes provided useful information regarding the history of each library, the number of printed works held, and the number of manuscripts in each library. 

Twenty-three years later, in 1853, the Abbé Jacques Paul Migne published in Paris a revised and expanded edition of Haenel's work entitled Dictionnaire des manuscrits, ou receuil de catalogues de manuscrits existants dans les principales bibliothèques d'Europe. Migne's edition, prepared by an anonymous editor, appeared in two volumes, the pages of which were set in two columns of relatively densely set type. The set appeared as part of Migne's inexpensive and widely distributed series of theological works intended to form a universal library for the Catholic priesthood. To update information in French libraries the editor incorporated information provided in the first volume of the French union catalogue of manuscripts published in 1849.  The editor also added extensive coverage of manuscripts in libraries in Germany and on the Italian peninsula, making this the first truly continent-wide union catalogue of manuscripts since Montfaucon, which continued to be cited when no other convenient source of information was available. 

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Origins of the National Library of Medicine 1836

In 1836 the Eighth Surgeon General of the United States Army Joseph Lovell purchased books and journals, establishing the Library of the Surgeon General's Office, also called the Library of the Surgeon General of the Army on the National Mall in Washington, DC.

In 1840 the library issued its first catalogue as a manuscript notebook. This library eventually evolved into the National Library of Medicine, now located in Bethesda, Maryland.

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Filed under: Libraries , Medicine

Sir Thomas Phillipps, the Greatest Private Collector of Manuscripts in the 19th Century, and Maybe Ever 1837 – 1871

From his private press at his estate at Middle Hill, Broadway, Worcestershire, England, Sir Thomas Phillipps issued Catalogus librorum manuscriptorum in bibliotheca d. Thomae Phillips, Bt., listing the most significant collection of manuscripts ever assembled by a collector. According to A.N.L. Munby, this catalogue of Phillipps's manuscript collection, published in fascicules, or parts, over more than thirty years, was issued in only 50 copies, of which only three surviving copies may be considered complete. The fascicules were printed by a variety of printers, only some of whom worked at Phillipps's estate, and Phillipps bound up copies from both corrected and uncorrected sheets, resulting in copies that are exceptional in their bibliographical complexity. The catalogue includes 23,837 entries, which, for various reasons outlined by Munby, describe a considerably larger collection that may have comprised about 60,000 manuscripts. In 1968 Munby issued, in an edition of 500 copies, a facsimile of a complete copy of the Phillips catalogue which belonged at the time to rare book dealer Lew D. Feldman: The Phillipps Manuscripts. Catalogus librorum manuscriptorum . . . with an introduction by A.N.L. Munby. (London: Holland Press).

"Philipps began his collecting while still at Rugby School and continued at Oxford. Such was his devotion that he acquired some 40,000 printed books and 60,000 manuscripts, arguably the largest collection a single individual has created. . . . A.N.L. Munby notes that '[h]e spent perhaps between two hundred thousand and a quarter of a million pounds[,] altogether four or five thousand pounds a year, while accessions came in at the rate of forty or fifty a week.' His success as a collector owed something to the dispersal of the monastic libraries following the French Revolution and the relative cheapness of a large amount of vellum material, in particular English legal documents, many of which owe their survival to Phillipps. He was an assiduous cataloguer who established the Middle Hill Press (named after his country seat at Broadway, Worcestershire) in 1822 not only to record his book holdings but also to publish his findings in English topography and geneology."

"During his lifetime Phillipps attempted to turn over his collection to the British nation and corresponded with the then-Chancellor of the Exchequer Disraeli in order that it should be acquired for the British Library. Negotiations proved unsuccessful and ultimately the dispersal of his collection took over 100 years. Phillipps's will stipulated that his books should remain intact at Thirlestaine House, that no bookseller or stranger should rearrange them and that no Roman Catholic should be permitted to view them. In 1885 the Court of Chancery declared this too restrictive and thus made possible the sale of the library which Phillipps’s grandson Thomas FitzRoy Fenwick supervised for the next fifty years. Significant portions of the European material were sold to the national collections on the continent including the Royal Library, Berlin, the Royal Library of Belgium and the Provincial Archives in Utrecht as well as the sale of outstanding individual items to the J. Pierpont Morgan and Henry E. Huntington libraries. By 1946 what was known as the 'residue' was sold to London booksellers Phillip and Lionel Robinson for £100,000, though this part of the collection was uncatalogued and unexamined. The Robinsons endeavored to sell these books through their own published catalogues and a number of Sothebys sales. The final portion of the collection was sold to New York bookseller H.P. Kraus in 1977 who issued a sale catalogue the same year: the last to bear the title Bibliotheca Phillippica. A five-volume history of the collection and its dispersal, Phillipps Studies, by A.N.L. Munby was published between 1951 and 1960" (Wikipedia article on Sir Thomas Phillipps, accessed 11-25-2008).

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Foundation of the Public Record Office 1838

The British Parliament established the Public Record Office (PRO) in 1838 to reform the keeping of government archives and court records. 

"Up till this time the records were being held, sometimes in poor conditions, in a variety of places."Some of these were court or departmental archives (established for several centuries) which were well run and had good or adequate catalogues; others were little more than store-rooms. Many of the professional staff of these individual archives simply continued their existing work in the new institution. A good number of documents were transferred from the Tower of London and the chapter house of Westminster Abbey, though the Domesday Book was not moved from Westminster until the 1850s, when proper storage had been prepared.

"The PRO was placed under the control of the Master of the Rolls, a senior judge whose job had originally included responsibility for keeping the records of the Chancery Court, and was originally located in the mediaeval Rolls Chapel (the former Domus Conversorum), a sort of halfway house for Jews who converted to Christianity, on Chancery Lane at the boundary of the City of London with Westminster. The first Master of the Rolls to take on this responsibility was Lord Langdale, while his Deputy Keeper, the historian Sir Francis Palgrave, had full-time responsibility for running the Office.

"There was no right to consult the records freely for scholarly purposes until 1852, despite the 1838 Public Record Office Act's intention of enabling public access. Fees were paid by lawyers who used the archives to consult a limited number of documents. These charges were abolished for serious historical and literary researchers after a petition was signed in 1851 by 83 people including Dickens, Macaulay, and Carlyle.

"A purpose built archive was designed and built between 1851 and 1858 (architect: Sir James Pennethorne) and extended onto the site of the Rolls Chapel, which was demolished as it was structurally unsound, between 1895 and 1902. Public search rooms were opened in 1866, but greater access led the authorities to restrict certain classes of document, and to favour visitors who were experienced in dealing with historical material.

"The growing size of the archives held by the PRO and by government departments led to the Public Records Act 1958, which established standard procedures for the selection of documents of historical importance to be kept by the PRO. Even so, growing interest in the records produced a need for the Office to expand, and a second building was opened at Kew in south-west London in 1977. The Kew building was expanded in the 1990s and all records were transferred from Chancery Lane to Kew or the Family Records Centre in Islington by 1997. The Chancery Lane building is now known as the Maughan Library, the largest library of King's College London" (Wikipedia article on Public Record Office, accessed 07-11-2009).

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Filed under: Archives, Libraries

Panizzi's 91 Rules for Standardizing the Cataloguing of Books 1841

In 1841 Antonio Panizzi, Keeper of the Department of Printed Books at the British Museum (now the British Library), issued 91 Rules for Compilation of the Catalogue. These rules represented the first rigorous and thorough attempt to standardize cataloguing of printed books. They appeared in the Catalogue of Printed Books in the British Museum, Volume 1, pp. v-ix, published in 1841. Remarkably only this single volume, covering the letter A, was published under Panizzi's direction. Though Panizzi supervised compilation of the full catalogue of the British Museum library in manuscript, the full catalogue did not begin to appear in print until 1881, two years after Panizzi's death. 

Along with publication of his 91 Rules, Panizzi had his new discipline of cataloguing applied in the first volume, which consisted of 457 two-column pages in small folio. Various of Panizzi's rules reflect social attitudes of the day. For example:

"V. Works of Jewish Rabbis, as well as works of Oriental writers in general, to be entered under their first name."

Concerning the rules and the catalogue Panizzi wrote in his preface to the first volume:

"The rules on which this Catalogue is based were sanctioned by the Trustees on the 13th of July, 1839; and, with the exception of such modifications as have been found necessary in order to accelerate the progress of the work, they have been strictly adhered to. Some additional rules, the want of which was not foreseen at the commencement, are printed in italics.

"The application of the rules was left by the Trustees to the discretion of the Editor, subject to the condition that a Catalogue of the printed books in the library up to the close of the year 1838 be completed within the year 1844. With a view to the fulfillment of this undertaking it was deemed indispensable that the Catalogue should should be put to press as soon as any portion of the manuscript could be prepared; consequently the early volumes must present omissions and inaccuracies, which it is hoped, will diminish in number as the work proceeds.

"In giving to the world the first volume of a Catalogue, which promises to be of an unprecedented extent, the Editor thinks that it would be premature to name each gentleman in his department to whose zeal and talents he is indebted for much that will add to its usefulness. He looks forward to a continuation of the same assistance; and he, therefore, reserves till after the conlusion of the work the particular expression of his obligations.

"British Museum, July 15th, 1841

"A. Panizzi"

From his comments above we may assume that Panizzi may have originally intended to issue a complete printed catalogue within the time frame set by the Trustees. However, he must have felt that the first volume of the catalogue was "rushed" into print in order to meet the Trustees' deadline of a complete catalogue being issued by the end of 1844. That no further volumes of the printed catalogue appeared in print until 40 years later, beginning two years after his death, was in no small part due to Panizzi's own objections to the huge cost of printing versus what he perceived as relatively small utility, and rapid obsolescence of printed catalogues, requiring frequent supplements. Having only a manuscript catalogue meant, of course, that the catalogue could only be consulted by users of the reading room. It also meant uneven legibility depending upon the quality of handwriting of whoever entered the data. It also meant that making a duplicate copy of a large printed catalogue would be very costly and might incorporate scribal errors. Having a printed catalogue would, of course be more legible, and having more than one copy available would allow more than one user to search the same portions at a time. Having the printed catalogue available at other research libraries would allow users in other cities and countries to know the holdings of the British Museum. Clearly this would stimulate scholarship. But to Panizzi and other librarians accustomed to working with manuscript catalogues these aspects did not seem convincing at the time. In his Memoirs of Libraries, Vol. II (1859) librarian and historian of libraries Edward Edwards devoted a chapter (pp. 850-868) of his section on library economy to the question of whether to print or not to print library catalogues because this was a topic currently in active discussion. Edwards clearly believed that the act of preparing a manuscript catalogue for the press would improve cataloguing, and that printed catalogues were superior to manuscript.  But the wheels of progress seem to have turned slowly in the catalogue department of the British Museum and in other national libraries, including the Bibliothèque nationale de France where the printed author catalogue did not begin to appear until 1897

The dramatic improvements in cataloguing resulting from Panizzi's new rules are evident if we compare the new catalogue entries with those in the prior British Museum catalogue compiled in Latin under the editorship of Henry Baber and Henry Ellis: Librorum impressorum qui in Museo britannico adservantur catalogue (7 vols. in 8, London, 1813-19). In August 2014 a digital facsimile of the first volume A-B was available from the Hathi Trust Digital Library at this link. Among the limitations of the Baber & Ellis cataloguing format, based on 16 rules loosely drawn up by Ellis, were sporadic cross-referencing and the cataloguing of anonymous works under a single title word arbitarily chosen by the individual cataloguer. For a discussion of the eventual advantages to scholarly research resulting from Panizzi's rules see my entry for the printed catalogue (1881-1900).

In spite of the eventual advantages to scholarship that would be gained by more sophisticated and standardized cataloguing, critics such as Nicolas Harris, decried the excess time and effort involved in these reforms. In 1846 Harris, who became one of Panizzi's most vocal critics, published Animadversions on the Library and Catalogues of the British Museum: A Reply to Mr. Panizzi's Statement; and a Correspondence with that Officer and the Trustees.

(This entry was last revised on 08-25-2014.)

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One of the Earliest Photographs of Books 1843 – 1844

William Henry Fox Talbot, one of the inventors of photography, photographed books in his library during 1843-1844. This was undoubtedly one of the earliest photographs of books. Fox Talbot later published this photograph in The Pencil of Nature

"An exceptional student first at Harrow and later at Cambridge, Talbot was a man of great learning and broad interests. Mathematics, astronomy, physics, botany, chemistry, Egyptology, philology, and the classics were all within the scope of his investigative appetite. The Philosophical Magazine, Miscellanies of Science, Botanische Schriften, Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians, Philological Essays, Poetae Minores Graeci, and Lanzi's Storia pittorica dell'Italia are among the volumes represented in this photograph—truly an intellectual self-portrait. The image appeared as plate 8 in The Pencil of Nature. Paradoxically, A Scene in a Library was taken out of doors, where the light was stronger" (http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/2005.100.172, accessed 10-25-2011).

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First Installments of the First Government-Sponsored National Union Catalogue of Manuscripts 1846 – 1849

In 1849 the first volume of Catalogue général des manuscrits des bibliothèques publiques des départements publié sous les auspices du Ministre d’instruction publique was published in Paris by the Imprimérie nationale. The 904-page quarto volume, with 2 folding lithographed plates, was the first installment of the first government-sponsored national union catalogue of manuscripts. The series eventually reached its fifty-ninth volume in 1975.

The first volume was undertaken under the leadership of the mathematician, paleographer and book thief, Guglielmo Libri. To this volume Libri made several major contributions. Besides his catalogue of the Seminary at Autun, first published separately in 1846, Libri wrote the catalogues of the city library and the medical school library at Montpellier, and of the library at Albi. Because Libri resigned from the commission before the catalogues received their final editing his work was revised for publication by Félix Ravaisson-Mollien.

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The First Publically Supported Municipal Library in the U.S. 1848

The Boston Public Library, the first publicly supported municipal library in the United States, was founded in 1848.

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Filed under: Libraries

Foundation of the Boston Public Library 1848

In 1848 the Boston Public Library was founded. It was the first publicly supported municipal library in the United States, the first large library open to the public in the United States, and the first public library in the U.S. to allow people to borrow books and other materials, and take them home to read and use.

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Filed under: Libraries

The First Index to Periodical LIterature 1849 – 1853

While a student at Yale University, American bibliographer and librarian William Frederick Poole published the first index to periodical literature, based on the limited holdings of the specific library at which he worked. It was entitled, An Alphabetical Index to Subjects, Treated in the Reviews and Other Periodicals, to which No Indexes Have Been Published Prepared for the Library of the Brothers in Unity. Yale College. This index extended to 154pp., and, as its title indicated, was a subject index only.

Three years later, after graduating from Yale and becoming librarian of the Boston Mercantile Library Association, Poole issued An Index to Periodical Literature in 1853. Extending to 521 pages, this was the first general index to periodical literature, indexing both subjects and personal names.

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Report on Select Committee on Public Libraries July 23, 1849

On July 23, 1849 the British House of Commons published Report from the Select Committee on Public Libraries; Together with Proceedings of the Committee, Minutes of Evidence, and AppendixThis proceedings was largely motivated by the report of librarian Edward Edwards entitled Approximate Statistical View of the Principal Public Libraries of Europe and of the United States of America, which was published as an Appendix  on pp. 255-305. The validity of much of these statistics has been criticized, but their publication had a beneficial effect on library development.

As a result of this report, which contained extensive testimony by Edward EdwardsFrançois Pierre Guillaume GuizotGuglielmo (William) Libri, and Samuel Smiles, politician William Ewart sponsored the 1850 Public Libraries Act, and because of his contributions Edward Edwards was appointed the first librarian of the first major library opened under the Public Libraries Act, the Manchester Free Library.

Edwards resigned from this post in 1858; the following year he issued the first comprehensive account of the development of libraries

(This entry was last revised on 06-16-2014.)

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1850 – 1875

The Public Libraries Act of 1850 August 14, 1850

The Public Libraries Act 1850 (13 & 14 Vict c.65), an Act of the United Kingdom Parliament, gave local boroughs the power to establish free public libraries for the first time.

"The Act was the first legislative step in the creation of an enduring national institution that provides universal free access to information and literature, and was indicative of the moral, social and educative concerns of the time. The legacy of the Act can be followed through subsequent legislation that built on and expanded the powers granted in 1850 and the 4,540 public libraries that exist in the United Kingdom in 2010 can trace their origins back to this Act" (Wikipedia article on Public Libraries Act 1850).

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Fire Destroys Two-Thirds of the Library of Congress December 24, 1851

A fire in the Library of Congress on December 24, 1851 destroyed 35,000 books—about two-thirds of the Library's 55,000 book collection, including two-thirds of Thomas Jefferson's library. This was the largest fire in the history of the Library of Congress

"Congress responded quickly and generously: in 1852 a total of $168,700 was appropriated to restore the Library's rooms in the Capitol and to replace the lost books. But the books were to be replaced only, with no particular intention of supplementing or expanding the collection. This policy reflected the conservative philosophy of Librarian of Congress John Silva Meehan and Sen. James A. Pearce of Maryland, the chairman of the Joint Committee on the Library, who favored keeping a strict limit on the Library's activities" (Jefferson's Legacy: A Brief History of the Library of Congress, accessed 10-09-2009).

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Charles Jewett Proposes a National Union Catalogue 1852

In 1852 Charles C. Jewett, librarian of the Smithsonian Institution, published On the Construction of Catalogues of Libraries and Their Publication by Means of Separate Stereotyped Titles With Rules and Examples. In this work Jewett described a plan for a national union catalogue of public libraries.

"His [Jewett's] intention was to secure general uniformity of bibliographic records through a system of "stereotyping" each title. This plan would have made it possible for libraries to print annual editions of their catalogs, incorporating the titles acquired 'during the previous year in each new edition, and for the Smithsonian to print a general union catalog which would have included' both its own holdings and those of all the public libraries. The uniformity Jewett sought was to be achieved not just through stereotyping but also through use of a single set of general cataloging rules which would be used by all the libraries. In the same year Jewett published a report titled On the Construction of Catalogues of Libraries which, among other things, set forth the first American cataloging rules for establishing headings for author entries. The report contained thirty-nine rules which were based on those of Panizzi. In fact Jewett acknowledged outright that he used some of Panizzi's rules verbatim. And Jewett's stated goal of serving the needs of users also reflected Panizzi s ideas. Though his project never came to final fruition, years later his goal of compiling a union catalog was met in the United States when the National Union Catalog began publication in 1953 and in Germany as early as 1899 when the Prussian Instructions was compiled under Jewett's influence" (J R. Hufford, The Pragmatic Basis of Catalog Codes: Has the User Been Ignored [2007] 29).

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Andrea Crestadoro Describes Keyword in Context Indexing 1856

In 1856 bibliographer Andrea Crestadoro, an acquaintance of Anthony Panizzi, exasperated with delays in production of the British Museum Catalogue of Printed Books, published anonymously The Art of Making Catalogues of Libraries, or a Method to Obtain a Most Perfect Complete and Satisfactory Printed Catalogue of the British Museum Library by a Reader Therein.

Crestadoro's booklet served as basis for a catalogue code. "In it he advocated the idea of the 'inventorial' catalog which would have detailed entries arranged in order of accession. The library patron was to be provided access to the entries through an alphabetical index of names and subjects. The Public Library of Manchester, England adopted this approach for its catalog and hired Crestadoro to implement it there in 1864. Like Panizzi, Crestadoro intended to have his catalog serve the needs of catalog users, but the rules of his code were not based on an empirical investigation of those needs" (J. R. Hufford, The Pragmatic Basis of Catalog Codes: Has the User Been Ignored [2007] 29).

At the end of his pamphlet Crestadoro advocated production of a universal catalogue of all publications.

Crestadoro implemented his ideas for Keyword in Context Indexing (KWIC) in the Catalogue of the Manchester Free Library: Reference Department  (1864). 

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Edward Edwards Issues the First Comprehensive Account of the Development of Libraries 1859

In 1859 Edward Edwards, former librarian of the Manchester Free Library, the first library opened under the 1850 Public Libraries Act, the passage of which was in no small part due to efforts by Edwards, published Memoirs of Libraries: Including A Handbook of Library Economy.  The first roughly 1400 pages of this work of approximately 1900 pages, published in two thick octavo volumes, consisted of a series of interrelated chapters which covered the development of libraries from the earliest times to the mid-19th century. Because of its unusual arrangement it is debatable whether or not Edwards' book is the first comprehensive "history" of libraries. It is certainly the first large, comprehensive collection of historical essays on the subject in English, and it contains a wealth of information difficult to find elsewhere. The final 500 pages consisted of what Edwards called "A Handbook of Library Economy"—a manual on how to run an institutional library.

Edwards continued his writings on the history of libraries in a collection of essays entitled Libraries and Founders of Libraries (1865).

In 1885, the year before his death, Edwards issued a second revised edition of the first 400 pages of Memoirs of Libraries as Memoirs of Libraries of Museums; and of Archives; (Public and Private); and of Some of Their Chief Founders, Collectors, Keepers.  Of the 500 copies printed of this second edition, a good number must have remained in sheets at the author's death. Those were reissued by Thomas Greenwood for presentation, with a new title page and frontispiece, in 1901.

Greenwood, Edward Edwards, The Chief Pioneer of Municipal Public Libraries (1902).  Munford, Edward Edwards 1812-1886. Portrait of a Librarian (1963).

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Filed under: Book History, Libraries

Constantin von Tischendorf Discovers and Acquires the Codex Sinaiticus: Controversial and Disputed February 4, 1859

The complicated story of how German biblical scholar Constantin von Tischendorf discovered the Codex Sinaiticus, and acquired it for Russia in 1859, is tinged with romance, and has often been retold. The adventure is compatible in character with other nineteenth century acquisitions of priceless historical treasures—acquisitions that could probably never happen today— yet the story remains disputed and controversial.

While a Privatdocent at the University of Leipzig in 1845 Tischendorf made his first visit to the extremely remote Monastery of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai in Egypt, one of the oldest working Christian monasteries in the world. This meant traveling hundreds of miles through the Egyptian desert from Cairo to Mt. Sinai on the back of a camel, so a scholar like Tischendorf had to be somewhat of an adventurer even to undertake the journey. The monastery was built in the mid-6th century by order of Emperor Justinian I, enclosing the Chapel of the Burning Bush (also known as "Saint Helen's Chapel") ordered to be built by Helena, the mother of Constantine I, at the site where Moses is supposed to have seen the burning bush. The living bush on the grounds is purportedly the one seen by Moses. The site is sacred to Christianity and Islam.

At the monastery Tischendorf saw some leaves of parchment in a waste-basket. He retrieved from the basket 129 leaves in an early Greek uncial majuscule hand, which he identified as coming from a manuscript of the Septuagint. According to his account, the monks indicated that they had already used a number of similar leaves to stoke their fires. To which Tischendorf responded that the leaves were too valuable to be burned. Whether the monks had actually burned any of the leaves is seriously disputed by the current occupants of the Monastery of Saint Catherine. Unfortunately, there is no way for us to know whether or not Tischendorf's assertion was accurate. He asked if he might keep the leaves he pulled out of the wastebasket, but the monks, having been made aware of their value and significance, permitted Tischendorf to take only 43 leaves. These leaves contained portions of 1 Chronicles, Jeremiah, Nehemiah, and Esther. Tischendorf later deposited them in the Leipzig University Library, where they remain. In 1846 Tischendorf published the content of the 43 leaves, naming them the Codex Frederico-Augustanus in honor of the his patron and sovereign, Frederick Augustus, the king of Saxony.

Eight years later, hoping to find more leaves from the same codex, in 1853 Tischendorf made another expedition to the monastery, but after the excitement which he had displayed in his first visit, the monks were cautious and let him leave with nothing, even after his arduous journey. Never one to concede easily, Tischendorf undertook a third journey to Saint Catherine's in 1859, this time under the auspices of tsar Alexander II of Russia. Tischendorf reached the remote monastery on January 14, and once again found nothing. On February 4, the day before he was scheduled to return to Cairo by camel, he presented to the steward of the monastery a copy of the edition of Septuagint that he had recently published in Leipzig. In response the steward remarked that he too had a copy of the Septuagint, and produced from the closet of his cell a manuscript wrapped in red cloth. Amazingly, this was the Codex Sinaiticus

This time being careful to conceal his enthusiasm, Tischendorf asked to borrow the manuscript to study it later that evening. His wish was granted, and, according to his own account, Tischendorf spent the entire night studying the manuscript, too excited to sleep. ("It really seemed a sacrilege to sleep.") This next morning Tischendorf offered to buy the manuscript, but his offer was rejected. Then he asked if he could take the manuscript to Cairo to study it. This request was also rejected.

In Cairo Tischendorf visited a small monastery in the city that was also operated by the monks on Sinai. There he impuned the abbot of the monastery of St. Catherine, who happened to be in Cairo, to send for the manuscript. To this the abbot agreed and sent Bedouin messengers to fetch the manuscript and deliver it to Cairo. Once the manuscript was in Cairo it was agreed that Tischendorf could examine one quire of eight leaves at a time for the purposes of copying the text. With the help of two Germans who happened to be in Cairo and knew Greek, and an apothecary, and a bookseller, all 110,000 lines of text in the manuscript were transcribed in two months, and carefully revised by Tischendorf.

A well-documented summary of Tischendorf's discovery is in Metzger & Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament. Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration. 4th ed (2005) 62-67. From this I quote from pp. 64-64:

"The next stage of the negotiations involved what may be called euphemistically 'ecclesiastical diplomacy.' At that time, the highest place of authority among the monks of Sinai was vacant. Tischendorf suggestioned that it would be to their advantage if they made a gift to the czar of Russia, whose influence, as protector of the Greek Church, they desired in connection with the election of the new abbot—and what could be more appropriate as a gift than this ancient Greek manuscript! After prolonged negotiations, the precious codex was delivered to Tischendorf for publication at Leipzig and for presentation to the czar in the name of the monks. In the east a gift demands a return (see Genesis 23, where Ephron 'gives' a Abraham a field for a burying plot but nevertheless Abraham pays him 400 shekels of silver for it). In return for the manuscript the czar presented to the monastery a silver shrine for St. Cartherine, a gift of 7,000 rubles for the library at Sinai, a gift of 2,000 rubles for the monastery in Cairo, and several Russian decorations (similar to honorary degrees for the authorities of the monastery. In 1862, on the thousandth anniversary of the founding of the Russian Empire, the text of the manuscript was published in magnificent style at the expense of the czar in four folio volumes, being printed at Leipzig with type cast for the purpose so as to resemble the characters of the manuscript, which it represents line for line with the greatest possible accuracy." 

Metzer and Ehrman qualified their account of the transaction with a long footnote, indicating that "certain aspects of the negotiations leading to the transfer of the codex to the czar's possession are open to an intepretation that reflects adversely upon Tischendorf's candor and good faith with the monks at St. Catherines's." In particular they cite Erhard Lauch, "Nichts gegen Tischendorf," Bekenntnis zur Kirche: Festgabe für  Ernst Sommerlath zum 70 Geburtstag (Berlin, c. 1961) pp. 15-24 "for an account that includes a hitherto unknown receipt given by Tischendorf to the authorities at the monastery promising to return the manuscript from St. Petersburg "to the Holy Confraternity of Sinai at its earliest request."  A more popular, but scholarly account is is James Bentley's Secrets of Mount Sinai. The Story of Finding the World's Oldest Bible—Codex Sinaiticus (1986). This well-illustrated study reflects bias against Tischendorf.

♦ As kind of a side show, in 1862 Constantine Simonides, a forger of manuscripts who had been exposed by Tischendorf, by way of revenge made the claim in print in The Guardian that he had written the codex himself as a young man in 1839. Simonides claims were refuted by bibliographer Henry Bradshaw. This incident I deal with in an entry for 1862-63.

Book Trade notes:

♦ "In 1931 Ernest Maggs had travelled to the Soviet Union with a colleague, Maurice Ettinghausen, who was both a bookseller and a scholar. When they saw the priceless Codex Sinaiticus, Ettinghausen remarked to his hosts, “If you ever want to sell it, let me know." Some time later, Maggs received a postcard saying that the Soviet government would be prepared to sell the Codex Sinaiticus for 200,000 pounds. The British group countered with 40,000 pounds. Finally, a price of 100,000 pounds was agreed upon. This was the largest price that had ever been paid for a book. It was an enormous sum at the time. [In 1933] The British government agreed to pay half the amount and guaranteed the remainder if it were not raised by public subscription." (Wikipedia article on Maggs Bros., accessed 08-02-2009).

♦ From Rosenbach: A Biography by Wolf & Fleming (1960) 367-68:

"Some preliminary negotiations were under way with Amtorg [in 1932] for the Codex Sinaiticus, the fourth-century manuscript of the Bible which had been in Russia since its discoverer, Tischendorf, acquired it for the Czar in 1869, and which the Communists, interested in neither its contents nor its provenance, wanted to sell. It was a volume before which the the Doctor's flow of words was inadequate. It was simply the most important, exciting, and valuable book in existence; except for fragments, it was one of the three oldest manuscripts of the Bible known. To have handled it would have added luster to any reputation. In the dickering stage, Dr. Rosenbach told the Russians that the asking price of $1,600,000 was too high, but he hung on the fringes of the deal by assuring them in confidence, 'that I might interest some of our wealthy clients in its purchase for presentation purposes, if the price could be lowered considerably.'

"Ah, perfidious Moscow! Before the end of the next year Ramsay MacDonald announced the purchase of the Codex by the British Museum for £100,000. The news found the Doctor astonished and disappointed. It had been offered to him for $1,250,000, he told the Herald Tribune, and he could not understand how the British Museum had obtained it for less than half that figure. . . ."

[In July 2008 it was stated on the Codex Sinaiticus website that the "recent" history of the manuscript would be revised in light of previously unavailable documents.]

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The Surgeon General's Library & Museum Are Moved to the Site of Lincoln's Assassination 1867

At the end of the American Civil War, in 1867 the Library of the Surgeon General's Office, along with the new Surgeon General's office, was— perhaps with some irony— moved to Ford's Theater, site of the tragic assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in April 1865. 

The theater had been closed and remodelled in the intervening two years. The new Office/Library site was taken over by the U.S. Army to house important post-Civil War medical activities of the Surgeon General's Office. These included the archive of Civil War medical records (essential for verification of veterans' pension claims) and the Army Medical Museum. The archive of case records, pathological specimens and photographs gathered by the Army Medical Museum was compiled by Joseph J. Woodward, Charles Smart, George A. Otis, and David Huntington under the direction of then Surgeon General of the Army, Joseph K. Barnes, into the six massive volumes of The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion, which were published between 1870 and 1888. This encyclopedic work has been called the "first comprehensive American medical book."

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Charles Babbage's Library: the First Catalogue of a Library on Computing and its History 1872

In 1872, the year after his death, Charles Babbage’s scientific library was sold at auction. The auction catalogue, containing over two thousand items on topics such as mathematical tables, cryptography, and calculating machines, and including many rare volumes, may be the first catalogue of a library on computing and its history.

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Henry Stevens Calls for a Central Bibliographical Bureau Which Would Also Store Images July 25 – November 29, 1872

American antiquarian bookseller and bibliographer Henry Stevens  published an auction catalogue of books, manuscripts, maps, and charts verbosely titled as follows:

Bibliotheca geographica & historica or a catalogue of a nine days sale of rare & valuable ancient and modern books maps charts manuscripts autograph letters et cetera illustrative of historical geography & geographical history general and local. . . collected used and described. With an introduction on the progress of geography and notes annotatiunculae [sic] on sundry subjects together with an essay upon the Stevens system of photobibliography. Part I. To be dispersed by auction . . . [in] London the 19th to 29th November 1872.

In his essay introductory to the catalogue entitled Photobibliography. A Word on Catalogues and How to Make Them Stevens calls for "A Central Bibliographical Bureau" which would produce standard bibliographical descriptions of items that could be used by other cataloguers and bibliographers.  Analogous to what later became national union catalogues of books, Stevens imagined that this could "be made self-supporting or even remunerative, like the Post Office."  He also called for a standardized system of recording reduced size images called "photograms" of books according to "one uniform scale." This would reduce "all the titles, maps, woodcuts, or whatever is desired to copy" to fit the images onto standardized filing cards on which bibliographical details could be written by hand, to spare the bibliographer the time and effort of transcribing title pages.  Negatives would be stored compactly, and prints made for reproduction in printed catalogues, etc. As examples Stevens had an albumen print of a title page pasted in as the frontispiece of the auction catalogue, plus a small circular photograph of "Ptolemy's World by Mercator" pasted onto the title page.   Stevens noted the he also made available a few copies of the auction catalogue on thicker paper with about 400 pasted-on "photograms."

Stevens later expanded on this idea in a paper entitled "Photobibliography, or a Central Bibliographical Clearing-House" presented to the 1877 Conference of Librarians held in London (see "Transactions and Proceedings of the Conference", pp. 70-81). In 1878 Stevens published privately a 16mo pamphlet of 49pp. entitled, Photo-Bibliography; or, a Word on Printed Card Catalogues of old, rare, beautiful, and costly books, and how to make them on a Co-operative System; and Two Words on the Establishment of a Central Bibliographical Bureau, or Clearing-house, for Librarians.  Bigmore & Wyman, A Bibliography of Printing (1880) III, 401.

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1875 – 1900

Librarian Melvil Dewey Invents Dewey Decimal Classification 1876 – 1885

In 1876 librarian of Amherst College Melvil Dewey published anonymously from Amherst, Massachusetts Classification and Subject Index for Cataloguing and Arranging the Books and Pamphlets of a Library. The work was issued as a 42-page pamphlet. On the top of the upper printed wrapper and on the top of the title page there was an unusual statement in small type:

"PROOF.—Please examine this as soon as practicable, mark any corrections or suggestions, and return to the Librarian, Amherst College. The matter is held in type for a few days, to allow any desirable change before the edition is printed. It is earnestly requested that you criticize freely and fully. Please note specially mistakes which have crept into the Index in the hurried proof-reading. Aslo suggest headings for the places left blank, and any alteration to names or arrangement. May we hear from you within a week?" 

This became known as the Dewey Decimal Classification. In 1885 Dewey published the second edition of his classification system, identifying himself as author for the first time. The Dewey Decimal Classification became the world's most widely used library classification system.

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The First Truly Comprehensive Subject Index of the Published Literature of Any Science 1876 – 1961

John Shaw Billings, librarian of the Library of the Surgeon-General's Office (now the National Library of Medicine) began publication of the The Index-Catalogue of the Library of the Surgeon-General’s Office in 1880. This was the first large-scale subject index of any library, and the first truly comprehensive subject index of the published literature of any science. 

Probably to obtain funding for the project, four years prior to the beginning of publication of the Index Catalogue Billings issued a Specimen Fasciculus ot a Catalogue of the National Medical Library Under the Direction of the Surgeon-General, United States Army (Washington, 1876). Besides providing examples of his ambitious cataloguing plans, the fasciculus shows that Billings viewed the Library of the Surgeon General's Office as a national medical library.

Before online databases the Index-Catalogue became a landmark in the history of efforts to organize information and to make it searchable, and a primary general reference for the history of medicine and science. The fifith and final series was issued in 1961. The finished set of printed books contained "over 4.5 million. . . references to over 3.7 million bibliographic items.  2.5 million items are primarily journal articles; 250,000 items are monographs (books, pamphlets, and reports); approximately 300,000 items are dissertations (theses); and 16,000 are journal titles. Series 1 and Series 2 include portraits as separate citations but Series 3, 4, and 5 indicate portraits in descriptive notes for monographs and dissertations."

In 1952 the name of the library was changed to Armed Forces Medical Library; it became the National Library of Medicine in 1956. See S. J. Greenberg & P. E. Gallagher, "The great contribution: Index MedicusIndex-Catalogue, and IndexCat," J. Med. Libr. Assoc. 97 (2009) 108–113.

The Index-catalogue is available online from the National Library of Medicine at this link.

(This entry was last revised on 05-04-2015.)



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The Last Library Cataloguing Code Written by One Person 1876

In 1876 Charles Ammi Cutter, librarian at the Boston Athenaeum, published Rules for a Printed Dictionary Catalogue. This was the last library cataloguing code written by one person.

"In his prefatory note, Cutter claimed to be the first investigator of the 'first principles of cataloguing' and the first to 'set forth the rules in a systematic way.' One of the principles he expostulated was that 'the convenience of the user should be preferred to the ease of the cataloguer.' Cutter urged catalogers to do such things as select the customary use of the names of subjects and the best known form of the author's name so that this goal might be fulfilled. The code's introduction lists objectives and means to bring about this convenience. These objectives and means have been studied for years by students of cataloging code history. Exactly how the 'convenience of the user' would be determined Cutter did not specify; he himself, it would seem, relied upon his own experience rather than any systematic study of user needs or behavior. No one else did such a study during these years either: such things as survey research and transaction log analysis were twentieth century phenomena" (J. R. Hufford, The Pragmatic Basis of Catalog Codes: Has the User Been Ignored? [2007] 29]

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Among the Most Unusual of Library Organizations: The Light House Traveling Library 1876

Among the most unusual of library organizations:

"Lighthouses were often time located in remote areas and as such had no access to city services such as libraries, opera houses, entertainment, etc. that most people enjoyed who lived in a town or city. As light keeping was a lonely profession in most cases supplies were brought to them by lighthouse tender ships. One of the items the tender supplied was a library box on each visit as pictured to the left. Library boxes were filled with books and switched from station to station to supply different reading materials to the families.

"In 1876 portable libraries were first introduced in the Light-House Establishment and furnished to all light vessels and inaccessible offshore light stations with a selection of reading materials. These libraries were contained in a portable wooden case, each with a printed listing of the contents posted inside the door. Proper arrangements were made for the exchange of these libraries at intervals, and for revision of the contents as books became obsolete in accordance with suggestions obtained from public library authorities" (http://www.michiganlights.com/lhlibrary.htm, accessed 11-19-2010).

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Filed under: Libraries

ALA is Founded October 6, 1876

The American Library Association (ALA) was founded in Philadelphia on October 6, 1876.

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Filed under: Libraries

Dewey Urges Standardization of Library Catalogue Cards 1877

In 1877 the American Library Association, headquartered in Philadelphia, urged on by Melvil Dewey, standardized the size of library catalogue cards. At this time most libraries maintained their main catalogue in book form.

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Index Medicus Begins 1879

Under the direction of John Shaw Billings, in 1879 the Library of the Surgeon General's Office (to be redesignated in 1956 the National Library of Medicine) began publication of the Index Medicus—  an effort to index all of medical periodical literature.

Index Medicus finally ceased publication in print in 2004.

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The First Complete Catalogue of the British Museum Library Following Panizzi's Rules 1881 – 1905

The Catalogue of Printed Books in the Library of the British Museum  was published in 393 parts from 1881-1900, followed by a Supplement in 44 parts published from 1900-05. Various other supplements were later published. This was the first iteration of the complete British Museum catalogue implementing Antonio Panizzi's 91 Rules, promulgated in 1841, for standardizing the cataloguing of printed books. 

"The General Catalogue is, by common consent, a research tool of undisputed importance for historians of European civilisation from the invention of printing to the present day. Its utility and the universal esteem in which it is held derive from two principal factors: the richness of the collections it seeks to describe, and the principles underying the methods of that description. Unlike most library catalogues which provide access to collections via the main entry-points of author title, the General Catalogue has, from the beginning, sought rather to incorporate the best traditions of German analytic cataloguing into the general framework of an author catalogue. The logic of its structure is derived from thesaural rather than lexical principles. Generations of scholars have testified to the benefits for research which its rich contextual organisation make possible. The juxtaposition of related materials, frequently arranged in a chronological rather than merely alphabetic sequence (in recognition of the scholar's needs), is a feature designed to encourage a systematic and exploratory response from the user. Thus, the search for a specific item (especially if that item was published anonymously) can yield a rich and perhaps unsuspected harvest of related items, and opportunities for discovery are further multiplied by the elaborate system of cross-references between authors and headings. The format of the catalogue was itself devised to encourage the user to explore sequences of entries rather than to focus upon the individual entry. It is as though Panizzi conceived of books as members of a vast related community and obligingly sought to demonstrate their relationship within the constraints of a library catalogue. For certain kinds of anonymous publication, Panizzi's rules were designed to allow a subject approach, based on the wording of the title page. But within such headings the sequences are where possible based on historical principles. Such familiar collective headings as:- ENGLAND, FRANCE, AMERICA; LONDON, ROME, PARIS; BIBLE, LITURGIES; GEORGE III, LOUIS XIV, PIUS IX, PERIODICAL PUBLICATIONS- represent the imposition of an historically understood order upon a considerable body of heterogeneous publications. For the user in search of a specific anonymous title the catalogue's disposition to arrange items in an historical context (derived from a significant element within the title) can be frustrating if only the first few words of the title are known, or if the cataloguing principles for choice of heading are imprefectly understood. But the alternative, now widely regarded as standard, procedure of entering anonymous titles under first word, while facilitating access to individual works (the title-index to ENGLAND is undoubtedly invaluable) distributes irrecoverably related items frequently crucial to the user's requirements. It is clear that for the collections of a major research library multiple access is desirable, but for a machine-readble catalogue such as ESTC the search possibilities provided by the computer fortunately make these problems less acute" (Alston & Jannetta, Bibliography, Machine-Readable Cataloguing and the ESTC [1978] 20).

McCrimmon, Power, Politics, and Print. The Publication of the British Museum Catalogue 1881-1900 (1981).

(This entry was last revised on 08-23-2014.)

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Imagining a Library 100 Years in the Future 1883

In 1883 Charles Ammi Cutter, Librarian of the Boston Atheneum, and author of Cutter Expansive Classification, published a short story entitled The Buffalo Public Library in 1983. In it he predicted how a library would operate one hundred years into the future. Here is a selection:

“ 'But what,' he continued, 'will be a novelty to you, is the listening-room, where works, of which we have fonografic editions prepared by the best readers, are read by machines, often to crowded audiences. The rooms are distributed all over the city, fifty or more, and we are intending to increase the number. People go to them with their whole families, except to those where smoking is allowed, which are frequented for the most part by men alone. There they listen to the reading of a story or an entertaining history or biografy, or book of travels, or a work of popular science. Sometimes one work occupies the whole evening, sometimes selections are read. The program for the whole city is advertised in the papers each day. The reading-machines have reached such a pitch of perfection that it is as if one were listening to an agreeable elocutionist. I prefer to do my own reading, but there are many whose eyes are weak, or who do not read with ease, or have not comfortable homes, or do not own the book that is to be read, or prefer to listen in company. We are very particular about the ventilation. We do not want any one to go to sleep.” I asked him whether he thought these readings gave any real instruction, or only amusement. He admitted that an exciting novel would draw better than anything else, but said that they did not allow the selection to run too much to fiction. 'In the circulation of books we have to follow the public taste, but in these listening-rooms we have the matter more in our control. Of course we must select bright books which the people will come to hear. Dull books must be rigidly excluded; but that is not difficult, because no dull book is published in reading-machine editions. Yes, I think a great deal of information is spread that way, and at any rate they are a valuable rival to the dram-shops, and keep many a young man out of bad places. The readings are usually in the evening. Where a school-room is used for the purpose it must be so; but, for our own branches, we have a rule that if ten people ask for a reading in the day-time it shall be granted, with any book they choose. When trade is dull there are readings going on all day.'

"I omit many details in which their ways did not differ much from ours, — the book-trucks, the fall-power lifts just large enough for one person, the means of communication between all parts of the building by telefone or pneumatic tubes, or in any other way that the situation required. Their intention was to make the work easy and quick, and to reduce time and space as nearly as possible to zero. I cannot stop to describe the arrangements for allowing the public access to the shelves. But I may mention that the library was open every day in the year, without any exception; that one study-room was kept open as late at night as anybody wanted it, and on several occasions, when there was a special need, it had been kept open all night.

“ 'One other practical point: The fonograf,' I was told, 'plays a great part in our library work. If Boston or Philadelphia has a rare book from which we wish extracts, instead of having it sent on with the risk of loss, we have a fonografic foil made of the desired passages, which are read off to us, or, if we pay a little more, are sent on. In the latter case, a duplicate, made by a new process, is kept at the library, so that librarians gradually accumulate fonografic reproductions of all their rarest books, and when they are called for have only to put the foil in the machine and have it read off through the wires to the end of the Union. All the libraries in the country, you see, are practically one library.' ”

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The First Carnegie Library 1883

In 1883 Scottish-American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie donated his first public library to his hometown of Dunfermine, Scotland. Making books more widely available through the construction of public libraries became a major philanthropic cause for the remainder of Carnegie's life.

Between 1883 and 1929 2,509 Carnegie libraries were built, including some belonging to public and university library systems. 1,689 were built in the United States, 660 in Britain and Ireland, 125 in Canada, and others in Australia, New Zealand, Serbia, the Caribbean, and Fiji. Few towns that requested a grant and agreed to Carnegie's terms were refused. When the last grant was made in 1919, the year of Carnegie's death, there were 3,500 libraries in the United States, nearly half of them built with construction grants funded by Carnegie.

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Foundation of The Grolier Club January 23, 1884

On January 23, 1884 printing press manufacturer and book collector, Robert Hoe, and eight of his book collector friends, founded The Grolier Club in New York. It became the leading society of bibliophiles in the United States, and a leading venue for exhibitions relating to book history. 

The library of The Grolier Club became a leading research center for book history, for the history of libraries, the history of book collecting and the book trade.

I was very pleased to join The Grolier Club in 1989.

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The First Subject Index to the Library of the British Museum 1886

As the Catalogue of Printed Books in the Library of the British Museum, the first series of which was published from 1881 to 1900, was primarily arranged by author with some limited thesaural principles, and publication of the catalogue was ongoing, there was a need for a subject index, since the subject arrangement of the library was by a shelving system developed by librarian Thomas Watts, and readers were very rarely permitted access to shelves other than those in the reading room. Accordingly, librarian G[eorge] K[nottesford] Fortescue, Keeper of Printed Books, undertook the compilation of a subject index. This was first published in 1886 as A Subject Index of the Modern Works added to the Library of the British Museum in the Years 1880-1885. No attempt was ever made to compile or publish a subject index to the huge General Catalogue.

"The primary of the object of the index being to assist readers in the library of the British Museum, it was not considered necessary to reproduce such portions of the great printed catalogue (which is mainly an author catalogue) as were the nature of a class catalogue, such as the headings of Bibles and Liturgies, and for the same reason personal names were omitted as subject headings. Novels, poems, plays, and miscellaneous essays were also ignored. The index was at once found to be a great boon to readers; a second volume describing the additions of the years 1885-90 was published in 1891, and a third in 1897 for those of 1891-95. The number of entries in the third volume was about 37,760, while the total number of entries in three volumes covering the period between 1990 and 1895 was about 124,700. The three volumes were incorporated in one alphabet with the addition of the titles of books added during the years 1896-1900, aw well as the Slavonic, Hungarian, and Finnish books published between 1881 and 1900 which had not been included in the former indexes. The new edition was published as Subject Index of the Modern Works added to the British Museum in the years 1881-1900 (1902-3, 3 vols., 8vo). The edition contained about 155,00 entries in one alphabet of subjects with many sub-headings. The British Museum shelfmarks are added to the titles. . . ."(obituary of Mr. G. K. Fortescue published in The Times, October 28, 1912.

F. J. Hill, " 'Forescue': The British Museum and British Library Subject Index," British Library Journal, 1986.

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Establishment of the First Library School, the "School of Library Economy" 1887

In 1887 Melvil Dewey established the first library school at Columbia University. It was originally known as the School of Library Economy of Columbia College.  

On its 50th anniversary in 1937 the library school, by then known as the School of Library Service of Columbia University, published a volume containing reproductions of the founding documents of the school under the title of School of Library Economy of Columbia College 1887-1889. Documents for a History. This substantial quarto volume of 271 pages was issued in an edition of 400 copies. From this we learn that Dewey's first paper on the need for systematic preparation for librarianship, with suggestions on how to provide it, concerned improving the traditional method of apprenticeship training: "Apprenticeship of Librarians," Library Journal V, No. 4 (May 31, 1879) 147-48. By 1883 Dewey's ideas had advanced to sufficiently that he proposed the creation for a library school at Columbia College at a conference of the American Library Association at Buffalo, New York on August 16, 1883. In this paper, "School of Library Economy," Library Journal V, No. 8, (September-October 1883) 285-90, Dewey gave the school its original name. According to the first brief published report on school operation published in Library Notes in March 1887 the school began with a class of 20 students.

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Government Surveillance of Refugee Reading Habits at the British Museum, 1891-1905 1891 – 1905

In 2008 Robert Henderson, then of the British Library, completed a PhD thesis at the University of London entitled "Vladimir Bursev and the Russian revolutionary emigration: surveillance of foreign political refugees in London, 1891-1905." Chapters 3 and 4 describe:

"...how, despite (or perhaps because of) its reputation as (in Trotsky’s words) a ‘sanctuary’ for political exiles, the British Museum gave readers’ tickets to plain clothes policemen from Scotland Yard to enable them to keep an eye on refugees working in the Reading Room. Following the Greenwich Observatory bomb outrage of 1894 (the inspiration for Conrad’s Secret Agent) it was found that information on the explosives had been taken from a book in the British Museum, and the Museum’s authorities agreed to remove a second edition of the book on explosives from the catalogue and keep it in a reserved collection. (Apparently the origins of the collection of books suppressed on security or legal grounds which was still in place when I worked at the Library, when copies of ’Spycatcher’ received under legal deposit were placed in a Deputy Keeper’s cupboard under lock and key). This eventually led to the arrest of the writer and journalist Vladimir Burtsev by one of the plain clothes policemen with a reader's  ticket as he left the Museum Reading Room. Burtsev was subsequently the first Russian exile to be imprisoned in Britain. The case of Regina v. Bourtzeff remains central to law in this area and was recently cited, as Robert points out,  in the litigation concerning the deportation of Abu Al Hamza" (Andrew Prescott, Dept. of Digital Humanities, Kings's College London, Humanist Discussion Group 12-03-2013). The links within the quote are my additions..

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An Analog Search Engine to Organize All the World's Knowledge 1895

In 1895 Belgian author, entrepreneur, visionary, lawyer and peace activist Paul Otlet and Belgian professor of international law and legislator Henri La Fontaine founded the Institut International de Bibliographie in Brussels. In this organization they began the creation of a system of 3 x 5 index cards cataloguing facts that became known as the "Repertoire Bibliographique Universel" (RBU). By the end of 1895 it had grown to 400,000 entries. Eventually it reached 16 million cards.  The goal was to organize all the knowledge of the world.

To organize the cards Otlet and La Fontaine developed the Universal Decimal Classification based on the Dewey Decimal Classification, but using auxiliary signs to indicate various special aspects of a subject and relationships between subjects. "It thus contains a significant faceted or analytico-synthetic element, and is used especially in specialist libraries. UDC has been modified and extended through the years to cope with the increasing output in all disciplines of human knowledge, and is still under continuous review to take account of new developments" (Wikipedia article on Universal Decimal Classification, accessed 03-13-2012).

"In 1896, Otlet set up a fee-based service to answer questions by mail, by sending the requesters copies of the relevant index cards for each query; scholar Alex Wright has referred to the service as an 'analog search engine'. By 1912, this service responded to over 1,500 queries a year. Users of this service were even warned if their query was likely to produce more than 50 results per search.

"Otlet envisioned a copy of the RBU in each major city around the world, with Brussels holding the master copy. At various times between 1900 and 1914, attempts were made to send full copies of the RBU to cities such as Paris, Washington, D.C. and Rio de Janeiro; however, difficulties in copying and transportation meant that no city received more than a few hundred thousand cards" (Wikipedia article on Paul Otlet, accessed 03-02-2009).

Following World War I, in 1920 the organization, then called the Mundaneum, opened in the left wing of the palace of the Cinquantenaire de Bruxelles called the Palais Mondial-Mundaneum.

In 1931 the Institut International de Bibliographie was renamed the Institut International de Documentation, IID.  World War II and the deaths of La Fontaine in 1943 and Otlet in 1944 slowed the project. Although many of the cards were stored, some of them in the Brussels subway, volunteers kept the dream alive. In 1998, Belgium’s French community government revived the Mundaneum’s memory, bringing most of the archives to a beautiful Art Deco building in the city of Mons.

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The Largest and Most Diverse Collection of Medieval Manuscripts in the World 1896 – 1902

In 1896 Agnes Smith Lewis and Margaret Dunlop Gibson, identical-twin sisters and Semitic scholars, who between them learned twelve languages, returned to Cambridge from a trip to the Middle East bearing leaves from several ancient Hebrew manuscripts that they had purchased from a Cairo bookseller. They showed the parchment leaves to Solomon Schechter, reader in Talmudic Studies at Cambridge, who was surprised to discover among them in May 1896 an 11th or 12 century copy of the Hebrew proverbs of Ben Sira, a second-century BCE Hebrew book of wisdom. Through translations, where it is known as Sirach in Greek, or Ecclesiasticus in Latin (not to be confused with Ecclesiastes) the work became part of the Christian Bible,  This he published with English translation, introduction, and notes in the Expositor for July 1896, (p. i seqq.)

Wanting to share news of his discovery Schechter wrote to his friend Adolf Neubauer, sublibrarian at the Bodleian Library and reader in Rabbinic Hebrew at Oxford, that he had discovered a fragment of Sirach (xxxix. 15 to xl. 7) in Hebrew. In response to Schechter's postcard, Neubauer replied  two weeks later that he and his assistant, Arthur Cowley, had “coincidentally" discovered nine pages of Ben Sira at Oxford. Of course, this was no coincidence. Schechter's discovery had prompted Neubauer to restudy much more carefully a collection of Hebrew manuscripts that he had previously dismissed and had intended to sell—a box of about 10,000 pages of manuscripts that had been obtained from the genizah in 1895 by Oxford Assyriologist and linguist Archibald Sayce. Using Schechter's discovery and finds from Sayce's donation, in 1897 Neubauer and A. E. Cowley published The Original Hebrew of a Portion of Ecclesiasticus (xxxix.14 to ILIX.11) Together with the Early Versions and an English Translation Followed by the Quotations from Ben Sira in Rabbinical Literature. This was probably the first scholarly book in English on manuscripts from the Cairo genizah. 

Not wanting to miss out on any more discoveries, Schechter set out for Egypt where, with the financial assistance of Hebraist Charles Taylor, then Master of St. John's College, Cambridge, he purchased what he considered the most significant portion of the contents of the genizah (Geniza), a sacred storeroom in the loft of the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Fustat, presently Old Cairo.

"According to rabbinic law (see, for instance, Mishna Shabbat 16:1), once a holy book can no longer be used (because it is too old, or because its text is no longer relevant) it cannot be destroyed or casually discarded: texts containing the name of God should be buried or, if burial is not possible, placed in a genizah.  

"At least from the early 11th century, the Jews of Fustat, one of the most important and richest Jewish communities of the Mediterranean world, reverently placed their old texts in the Genizah. Remarkably, however, they placed not only the expected religious works, such as Bibles, prayer books and compendia of Jewish law, but also what we would regard as secular works and everyday documents: shopping lists, marriage contracts, divorce deeds, pages from Arabic fables, works of Sufi and Shi'ite philosophy, medical books, magical amulets, business letters and accounts, and hundreds of letters: examples of practically every kind of written text produced by the Jewish communities of the Near East can now be found in the Genizah Collection, and it presents an unparalleled insight into the medieval Jewish world" (http://cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk/collections/genizah, accessed 12-14-2012).

Schechter sent back to Cambridge about 193,000 manuscripts from the genizah. These became the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Collection at Cambridge University Library. In 2012 this entire collection was in the process of being digitized and placed online as part of the Cambridge Digital Library.

        When Schechter assumed the presidency of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York in 1902 he brought an additional collection of manuscripts from the genizah to that library. Currently the Jewish Theological Seminary holds about 40,000 manuscripts or fragments from the Cairo genizah. An additional 11,000 fragments are at the John Rylands University Library at the University of Manchester, purchased from the estate of Dr. Moses Gaster in 1954. Smaller portions are preserved in other universities around the world.

"The Cairo Genizah, mostly discovered late in the nineteenth century but still resurfacing in our own day, is a collection of over 200,000 fragmentary Jewish texts (which may well equal three times that number of folios). Many of these were stored in the loft of the ancient Ben Ezra Synagogue in Fustat medieval Cairo, to the south-west of the modern city) between the 11th and 19th centuries. A genizah is a storage room where copies of respected texts with scribal errors or physical damaged, or unusable documents, are kept until they can be ritually buried. The dark, sealed, room in the arid Egyptian climate contributed to the preservation of the documents, the earliest of which may go back to the eighth and ninth centuries.

"These manuscripts outline a 1,000-year continuum of Middle-Eastern history and comprise the largest and most diverse collection of medieval manuscripts in the world. The Genizah can be described as one of the greatest Jewish treasures ever found.

"Early visitors to the Genizah were wary of examining its contents because of the local superstition that foretold disaster for anyone who might remove any of its contents. This, too, contributed to the preservation of the documents.

"In the second half of the 19th century some texts were sold by synagogue officials to dealers, scholars and visitors. Famous libraries in St. Petersburg, Paris, London, Oxford, Cambridge and Philadelphia acquired major collections.

"In the early 1890's Rabbi Shlomo Aharon Wertheimer, a Torah scholar, collector and researcher, living in Jerusalem, began publishing manuscripts that he had purchased from the Cairo Genizah with his identifications and explanations – among them rare and important texts. He also sold some of these manuscripts to collectors in order to finance the purchase of additional ones. To some extent, he was one of the first to recognize the treasure trove that was the Cairo Genizah."

These quotations were from the website of the Friedberg Genizah Project, an effort underway in Jerusalem to digitize and preserve all surviving portions of the Cairo Genizah from around the world.


In December 2013 BBC News announced that historic rivals Oxford and Cambridge Universities had jointly raised £1.2m to purchase the Lewis-Gibson Genizah collection, containing about 1,700 documents and fragments, that twin-sisters Agnes Smith Lewis and Margaret Dunlop Gibson had acquired in Cairo and donated to Westminster College, Cambridge.

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The Library of Congress Classification 1897

In 1897, before he was appointed Librarian of Congress, Herbert Putnam, with the assistance of Charles Ammi Cutter, developed the Library of Congress Classification (LCC). This and the Dewey Decimal Classification became the most widely used systems of library classification.

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The Library of Congress Establishes Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) 1898

In 1898 the Library of Congress established Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH)  to catalog materials held at the Library of Congress. This became the most widely used library classification system worldwide.

"By virtue of cooperative cataloging other libraries around the United States also use LCSH to provide subject access to their collections. In addition LCSH is used internationally, often in translation. LCSH in this service includes all Library of Congress Subject Headings, free-floating subdivisions (topical and form), Genre/Form headings, Children's (AC) headings, and validation strings* for which authority records have been created. The content includes a few name headings (personal and corporate), such as William Shakespeare, Jesus Christ, and Harvard University, and geographic headings that are added to LCSH as they are needed to establish subdivisions, provide a pattern for subdivision practice, or provide reference structure for other terms. This content is expanded beyond the print issue of LCSH (the "red books") with inclusion of validation strings" (http://id.loc.gov/authorities/subjects, accessed 08-21-2016).

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The Questionable Quality of Paper 1898

In his annual report for 1898 Librarian of Congress John Russell Young commented on the "questionable quality of the paper upon which so much of the Library material is printed." Referring to the wood pulp paper that is inferior to paper previously made from linen rags, Young warned that many of the works coming into the Library "threaten in a few years to crumble into a waste heap, with no value as record."

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The Cumulative Book Index February 1898

Bookseller Halsey William Wilson of Minneapolis published the first issue of the Cumulative Book Index

"As a bookseller, Wilson had to constantly search through publishers' catalogs in order to keep track of currently published books that his customers might want. It was tedious and time-consuming work that prompted him to long for a comprehensive, up-to-date index of published works. He eventually decided to create such an index himself. What made the concept work economically was Wilson's idea to keep the publication current by placing each entry on a printer's "slug," which could then be later sorted with slugs from new entries. It may have been an obvious solution to someone who had experience as a job printer, but it was a revolutionary concept in bibliographical publishing. In February 1898 Wilson first published Cumulative Book Index, a comprehensive alphabetic list of currently published books in English, featuring the key elements of future Wilson indexes: the listing of author, title, and subject. The work sold for $1 to 300 subscribers, who would then receive periodically updated versions."

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1900 – 1910

The Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature 1901

In 1901 bookseller and bibliographer Halsey William Wilson of Minneapolis published the first issue of the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature.

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The Earliest Fictional Account of a Universal Library, Foreshadowing the Virtual Library on the Internet 1901

In 1901 German scientist, philosopher and science fiction writer Kurd Lasswitz at Gotha, Germany published a story entitled Die Universalbibliothek, describing a library which was universal in the sense that it not only contained all existing written works, but all possible written works.

"In 1901 Kurd Lasswitz wrote a short story, 'The Universal Library,' elaborated upon by Jorge Luis Borges as 'The Library of Babel' in 1941. 'When it was proclaimed that the Library contained all books, the first impression was one of extravagant happiness,' Borges explained. 'All men felt themselves to be the masters of an intact and secret treasure. There was no personal or world problem whose solution did not exist.' Borges described the library in magical tones, whereas Lasswitz, a mathematician as well as a philosopher, got down to practical details. 'You say that everything will be in the library? The complete works of Goethe? The Bible? The works of all the classical philosophers?" Professor Wallhausen's companion, the magazine editor Max Burkel, asked. 'Yes, and with all the variations in wording nobody has thought up yet. You'll find the lost works of Tacitus and their translations into all living and dead languages. Furthermore, all of my and my friend Burkel's future works, all forgotten and still undelivered speeches in all parliaments, the official version of the Universal Declaration of Peace, the history of all the subsequent wars...'

" 'I'm going to subscribe right now,' Burkel exclaimed. 'This will furnish me with all the future volumes of my magazine; I won't have to read manuscripts any more!' Professor Wallhausen decided to calculate how many volumes (a large but finite number) the universal library would have to contain.  ' 'Will you — ' he turned to his daughter — 'hand me a sheet of paper and a pencil from my desk?' Max Burkel added, 'Bring the logarithm table too.' After a few minutes Wallhausen had the result, and wrote it down: 10^2,000,000.

" 'You make your life easy,' remarked Mrs. Wallhausen. 'Why don't you write it down in the normal manner?'

" 'Not me. This would take me at least two weeks, without time out for food and sleep. If you printed that figure, it would be a little over two miles long.'

' 'What is the name of that figure?' the daughter wanted to know.

"It has no name," Wallhausen replied.

"The number of books in the Universal Library lies somewhere between a googol (10^100) and a googolplex (10^googol), numbers which were named, by 8-year-old Milton Sirotta and his uncle Edward Kasner, in 1938. In Lasswitz's tale, Wallhausen went on to demonstrate that there would not be enough room in the visible universe to contain all possible printed books. Editor Max Burkel's hope for the 'elimination of the author from the literary business' was doomed" (Edge: The Third Culture, "The Universal Library" by George Dyson, 11.30.05, accessed 05-25-2009).

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LC Cards 1901

In 1901 the Library of Congress began making printed Library of Congress catalogue cards (LC cards) available to libraries, thus promoting the development of catalogue card systems.

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Study of Museums and Research Libraries 1905

In 1905 German anthropologist, ornithologist, and entomologist, and Director of the Royal Zoological, Anthropological and Ethnographical Museum in Dresden, Adolf Bernard Meyer, published "Studies of the Museums and Kindred Institutions of New York City, Albany, Buffalo, and Chicago, with Notes on Some European Institutions".This appeared in the Report of the United States National Museum [Smithsonian Institution] for 1903, pp. 311-608, with forty plates. It was a translation revised by the author of studies he first published in German in 1900-02, and 1902-03.

Meyer's work was a pioneering illustrated study of the main museums of science and art in the United States and Europe as well as a survey of major research libraries in both America and Europe.  It includes striking images of building exteriors and interiors either no longer in existence or which have been extensively modified, and it also contains images of state of the art museum displays from the time.

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The Photomicrographic Book 1907

In 1907 engineer Robert Goldschmidt and Belgian author, entrepreneur, visionary, lawyer and peace activist Paul Otlet published "Sur une forme nouvelle du livre-- le livre microphotographique" in l'Institut international de bibliographie bulletin. In this paper they "proposed the livre microphotographique as a way to alleviate the cost and space limitations imposed by the codex format. Otlet’s overarching goal was to create a World Center Library of Juridical, Social and Cultural Documentation, and he saw microfiche as way to offer a stable and durable format that was inexpensive, easy to use, easy to reproduce, and extremely compact" (Wikipedia article on Microform, accessed 04-26-2009). 

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The First Library of Rare Science Books Formed by an American 1908

In 1908 historian of mathematics David Eugene Smith published Rara arithmetica: A Catalogue of the Arithmetics Written Before the Year MDCI with a Description of Those in the Library of George Arthur Plimpton of New York. This two-volume work, issued by Plimpton's textbook publishing company, Ginn & Company, described and illustrated Plimpton's library of early mathematical books and medieval manuscripts before 1601.  Two versions of the catalogue were published:

  1. A deluxe numbered edition limited to 151 copies printed on handmade paper and bound in full vellum, elaborately gilt, in two volumes, with the plates printed in color on Japan vellum, enclosed in a slipcase
  2. A trade edition of indeterminate number, printed on regular paper and bound in one volume in cloth-backed boards. 

Plimpton’s mathematical library, preserved at Columbia University Library, is the first specialized private collection of antiquarian scientific books formed by an American for which we have an annotated bibliographical catalogue.  Smith also discussed some of Plimpton’s early manuscripts in his History of Mathematics (Boston: Ginn & Co., 1923–25), and issued a pamphlet addendum to his catalogue of Plimpton’s library in 1939 (Rara arithmetica: Addenda to “Rara arithmetica" [Boston: Ginn & Co.]).

Plimpton did not comment on his library in any of Smith’s works, all, or nearly all of which were published by Plimpton's Ginn & Company. The only place where I found published remarks by Plimpton on his mathematical library was in “The History of Elementary Mathematics in the Plimpton Library", Atti del Congresso Internazionale dei Matematici Bologna 3–10 Settembre 1928, VI (1932) 433–42.

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The Wheeler Gift Catalogue of the History of Electricity and Telegraphy 1909

In 1909 William D. Weaver published Catalogue of the Wheeler Gift of Books, Pamphlets, and Periodicals in the Library of the American Institute of Engineers.With Introduction, Descriptive and Critical Notes by Brother Potamian. This 2-volume work, which remains the most comprehensive historical bibliography on the subjects, described primarily the library of Latimer Clark, a British electrical engineer and inventor working in London who, in partnership with Sir Charles Tilson Bright, was responsible for laying many of the first submarine telegraphic cables. While pursuing a remarkably successful and creative scientific and entrepeneurial career, Clark also found time to build one of the most complete collections ever formed of early books and manuscripts on the history of electricity and magnetism, including virtually every known publication in English on these subjects prior to 1886.

In collecting the history of electricity and telegraphy Clark followed in the path of Francis Ronalds, another telegraphy pioneer who assembled a somewhat smaller library on the subjects, the catalogue of which appeared in 1880. Nearly coincident with the publication of the catalogue of the Ronalds Library, in 1881 Francesco Rossetti and Giovanni Cantoni issued Bibliografia Italiana di Elettricità e Magnetismo, on the occasion of an international fair on electricity held in Paris in 1881. This briefly annotated bibliography presented the history of the Italian literature on the subject.

In 1901 Clark's library was purchased by the American engineer, Schulyer Skaats Wheeler, and donated by him to the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (now Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers [IEEE]) in New York. The extensively annotated and illustrated catalogue of the collection of 5,966 items, edited by William Weaver and annotated by Brother Potamian, was financed by Andrew Carnegie. Though the title page of the catalogue takes no notice of it, a high percentage of the items in Clark's library, particularly the final 2000 items, concern telegraphy.

Problematic Management of the Latimer Clark Library in the Twentieth Century:

"In 1913 the Engineering Societies Library was established in New York City, a joint venture of the AIEE, the ASME (Mechanical Engineers), and the AIME (Mining Engineers), funded by a $1.5 million gift from Andrew Carnegie. The AIEE’s main contribution to the Library was the Wheeler Gift Collection. For many years the collection was accessible according to the terms above, but in the 1990s the ESL decided that it could no longer maintain its Manhattan premises and closed the library there.

"By that time the Wheeler Gift Collection had been merged with other works at the library, and had suffered from neglect over the years, much of the material being kept in poor physical conditions. A 1985 survey of the collection showed about 9% (532 items) were missing, and it seems unlikely that the situation improved in the following ten years, prior to the dispersion of the collection.

"Constrained by the terms of the Gift to keep the collection in New York City, the ESL boxed up whatever could be definitely identified as part of the original Wheeler Gift and in 1995 sent 205 cartons of books and papers to the Humanities and Social Sciences division of the New York Public Library at 42nd Street. The rest of the collection, including items in the 1909 catalog that were part of the Wheeler Gift but did not have identifying labels, went to Linda Hall Library in Kansas City, MO"(http://atlantic-cable.com/CablePioneers/LatimerClark.htm, accessed 07-31-2009).

Hook & Norman, Origins of Cyberspace (2001) No. 211.

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1910 – 1920

"Die Brucke" and its Goals for a World Information Clearing House June 11, 1911 – 1913

In 1911 Karl Wilhelm Bührer and Adolf Saager published Die Organisierung der geistigen Arbeit durch die Brücke (The Organization of Intellectual Work through the Bridge) from Ansbach, Germany. This book described the aims of Die Brücke, Internationales Institut zur Organisierung der geistigen Arbeit (The Bridge, International Institute for the Organization of Intellectual Work), an institution founded in Munich on 11 June 1911 with the financial support of chemist Wilhelm Ostwald who donated his Nobel Prize money for the purpose.  In 1910 Ostwald had discussed problems of information management with Paul Otlet, co-founder of the Institut International de Bibliographie in Brussels. After only two years of existence The Bridge ended in 1913. It published numerous pamphlets, and perhaps the chief legacy of the project was the international standard for paper sizes (A4 etc.)

Concerning The Bridge Thomas Hapke wrote:

" 'Die Brücke is planned as a central station, where any question which may be raised with respect to any field of intellectual work whatever finds either direct answer or else indirect, in the sense that the inquirer is advised as to the place where he can obtain sufficient information' (Ostwald, 1913, p. 6, English original).

"The Bridge was supposed to be the information office for the information offices, a 'bridge' between the 'islands' where all other institutions—associations, societies, libraries, museums, companies, and individuals— 'were working for culture and civilization' (Die Brücke, 1910–1911). The organization of intellectual work was intended to occur 'automatically' through the general introduction of standardized means of communication— the monographic principle, standardized formats, and uniform indexing (Registraturvermerke) for all publications. The following facilities were planned: a collection of addresses, a Brückenarchiv as a 'comprehensive, illustrated world encyclopedia on sheets of standardized formats,' which should contain a world dictionary and a world museum catalog; a rückenmuseum; and a head office and Hochschule (college) for organization. 'Close cooperation' with the Institut Internationale de Bibliographie in Brussels was also planned."

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Destruction of the University Library at Leuven August 25, 1914

On August 25, 1914, as they plundered the city of Leuven, the invading German Army destroyed the library of the Catholic University of Leuven, the oldest and most prominent university in Belgium, founded in 1425 by Pope Martin V.

Along with the historic libary building about 300,000 books, and an untold number of manuscripts were lost, including irreplaceable medieval and renaissance treasures. The destruction of this library was part of brutal retaliations by the Germans for the extensive activity of "francs-tireurs" against the occupying forces.

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6,292 Different Incunabula in North American Libraries 1919

The number of titles of fifteenth century books (incunabula) present in North American libraries in 1919: 6,292. Number of copies: 13,200. (Goff, Incunabula in American Libraries, 3rd census [1964] xv.).

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1920 – 1930

S. R. Ranganathan Develops Colon Classification (CC), the First Faceted Classification 1924 – 1933

Between 1924 and 1933 Indian mathematician and librarian Slyall (Sirkazhi) Ramamrita Ranganathan (S. R. Ranganathan) developed Colon classification, the first faceted (or analytico-synthetic) classification system, as a general classification system for libraries. Ranganathan first published the system in his book, Colon Classification issued by the Madras Library Association in 1933. He continued to develop the system through the fifth edition of this work in 1959, and in numerous other books on the subject. 

" ... 'colon classification' comes from the use of colons to separate facets in class numbers. However, many other classification suchemes, some of which are completely unrelated, also use colons and other punctuation in various functions. They should not be confused with colon classification.

"In CC, facets describe "personality" (the most specific subject), matter, energy, space, and time (PMEST). These facets are generally associated with every item in a library, and so form a reasonably universal sorting system.[1]

"As an example, the subject "research in the cure of tuberculosis of lungs by x-ray conducted in India in 1950" would be categorized as:


"This is summarized in a specific call number:

"L,45;421:6;253:f.44'N5" (Wikipedia article on Colon classification, accessed 08-21-2016).

See M.P. Satija & Jagtar Singh, "Colon Classification: A Requiem", DESIDOC Journal of Library & Information Technology 33, No. 4 (2013) 265-276.

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A Massive Central Library on Microform for Printing on Demand 1925

In 1925 Robert B. Goldschmidt and Paul Otlet published "La Conservation et la diffusion internationale de la pensée" as publication no. 144 of the Institut international de bibliographie (Brussels). This work described their plans for a massive library where each volume existed as master negatives and positives on microform, and where items were printed on demand for interested patrons.

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The International Federation of Library Associations is Founded 1927

In 1927 the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) was founded in Edinburgh, Scotland.

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Filed under: Libraries

Henry E. Bliss Develops the Bliss Bibliographic Classification 1929 – 1953

In 1929 Henry Evelyn Bliss, then Associate Librarian of the College of the City of New York, issued The Organization of Knowledge and the System of the Sciences. This work, with an introduction by philosopher and educational reformer John Dewey, was the result of decades of study of knowledge organization. Part IV was Bliss's "A Historical Survey of Systems of Knowledge," This included Bliss's critique of prior systems.

In 1933 Bliss issued The Organization of Knowledge in Libraries and the Subject-Approach to Books (New York: H.W. Wilson). This work applied ideas developed more academically in his 1929 work to specific problems in modern libraries.

In 1935 Bliss extended his previous research with A System of Bibliographic Classification (New York: H.W. Wilson) in which he outlined his proposed system in detail.

Between 1940 and 1953 Bliss published his full library classification system, as A Bibliographic Classification, Extended by Systematic Auxiliary Schedules for Composite Specification (4 vols. New York: H.W. Wilson). The system was mainly adapted by various British libraries who belong to the Bliss Classification Association.

"What is the Bibliographic Classification?

The Bibliographic Classification (BC2 or Bliss) is the leading example of a fully faceted classification scheme. It provides a detailed classification for use in libraries and information services of all kinds, having a broad and detailed structure and order.

The vocabulary in each class is comprehensive and complemented by an exceptionally brief faceted notation considering the detail available, providing indexing to any depth the classifier wishes.

The structure of the subject within each class is clearly and simply laid out with rules provided for the quick and consistent placing of any item. A thorough A-Z index is provided in each volume. Users can access a subject catalogue record via any part of the whole, depending upon the primary interest of the user.


The Classification (known as BC) was originally devised by Henry Evelyn Bliss and was first published in four volumes in the USA between 1940 and 1953. Bliss stated that one of the purposes of the Classification was to "demonstrate that a coherent and comprehensive system, based on the logical principles of classification and consistent with the systems of science and education, may be available to services in libraries, "to aid revision ... of long established ... classifications" and to provide an "adaptable, efficient and economical classification, notation and index." A fundamental principle is the idea of subordination - each specific subject is subordinated to the appropriate general one. This version of the classification is now known as BC1.

BC1 was first applied in broad outline at the College of the City of New York (where Bliss was librarian) in 1902. The full scheme followed the publication of two massive theoretical works on the organization of knowledge. Its main feature was the carefully designed main class order, reflecting the Comptean principle of gradation in speciality. Work on a radical revision of BC1, incorporating the great advances in logical facet analysis initiated by Ranganathan and developed by the Classification Research Group in Britain, began in the early 1970s" (http://www.blissclassification.org.uk/bchist.shtml, accessed 08-21-2016).

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A Portion of a 15th Century Medical Library for Sale in 1929 1929

In 1929 London antiquarian booksellers Maggs Bros. issued Catalogue of Medical Works from the Library of Dr. Nicholaus Pol, Born c1470; Court Physician to the Emperor Maximilian I. Maggs further characterized the 34 items offered in the catalogue as "A remarkable collection of 'Editiones principes' and other early editions of Medical Authors, Classical, Arabian, and medieval from famous early presses of France and Italy in the original Gothic Bindings executed for Dr. Pol".

The asking price for the collection—£2500, even when the pound equalled nearly $5— seems exceptionally reasonable today, considering the optimal significance and quality of the books involved.

The catalogue was bought in its entirely by the Cleveland Medical Library and it is preserved in the Howard Dittrick Medical History Center at Case Western Reserve University.

"Through a clerical error, Dr. Harvey Cushing did not receive a copy of the catalogue, but his nephew Dr. Edward H. Cushing of Cleveland did. He promptly persuaded President Vinson of Western Reserve University to cable for the collection and hold it until the Cleveland Medical Library Association could raise the money. This was soon supplied by a donor who asked to be nameless, and the collection came to rest in the Cleveland Medical Library as a memorial to Mr. Charles H. Bingham" (http://www.cwru.edu/artsci/dittrick/site2/books/pol.html, accessed 08--02-2009).

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1930 – 1940

The Contributions of Vannevar Bush to Analog Computing, Information Retrieval, and the Concept of Hypertext 1930 – June 1949

American engineer and information visionary Vannevar Bush's work related to the history of information began at MIT in 1930 with the differential analyzer, a large analog computer more accurate than previous devices of this type. Bush's primary paper about this machine was: Bush,V. & Hazen, H., "The Differential Analyzer. A New Machine for Solving Differential Equations," Journal of the Franklin Institute 212 (1931) 447-88. In July 2014 three-dimensional computer graphic images visualizing the Bush differential analyzer were available from the MIT website at this link.

By 1936 Bush was working on the Rapid Arithmetical Machine Project. In a paper called "Instrumental Analysis" publshed in Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society 42  (1936) pp. 649-69, he suggested how an electromechanical machine might be built to accomplish Charles Babbage’s goals for the Analytical Engine. This was almost exactly one hundred years after Babbage began designing his Analytical Engine. In the same paper Bush wrote that four billion punched cards were being used annually in electric tabulating machines. This amounted to ten thousand tons of punched cards.

On March 7, 1940 Bush wrote a memorandum entitled “Arithmetical Machine.” This memorandum, shows that the Rapid Arithmetical Machine Project begun conceptually in 1936 was already well-advanced. However, Bush continued to focus most of his computational energy on building the Rockefeller Differential Analyzer II, a 100 ton analog machine that included 2000 vacuum tubes and 150 electric motors that was more accurate and faster than the first Differential Analyzer. It contained two thousand vacuum tubes and weighed about one hundred thousand pounds. For security reasons its existence was not publicized until October 1945.

Bush published a popular description of the aims of his Rapid Selector information retrieval machine in his 1945 article, As We May Think, which appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 176, No. 1 (1945) 641-49. This paper described the Memex, an electromechanical microfilm machine, which Bush began developing conceptually in 1938. As conceived, the Memex was capable of making permanent associative links in information. Features of the hypothetical Memex foreshadowed aspects of the personal computer and hyperlinks on the Internet. Bush was unable to patent his Rapid Selector because of its similarity to aspects of prior work on electronic document retrieval previously patented by Emanuel Goldberg.

On September 10, 1945 Bush published a condensed, illustrated version of "As We May Think" in Life magazine, 19, No. 11 (1945) 112-114, 116, 121, 123-24. Life's editors added the following subtitle: "A Top U.S. Scientist Foresees a Possible Future World in Which Man-Made Machines Will Start to Think." They also replaced the Atlantic Monthly's numbered sections with headings, and added illustrations of the "cyclops camera," the "supersecretary" and the "Memex" microfilm machine in the form of a desk. This was the first published illustration of what the Memex might look like. In From Memex to Hypertext: Vannever Bush and the Mind's Machine (1991) James Nyce and Paul Kahn published a version of "As We May Think" that shows the differences between the two different versions of Bush's essay published in 1945. Nyce and Kahn also developed a brief animated film showing how the Memex might have operated. Bush, himself, never seems to have developed a working version of the machine, though his group worked on a prototype.

In August 1947 Ralph R. Shaw, Director of Libraries for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in collaboration with Engineering Research Associates of St. Paul, Minnesota, using funds provided by the Office of Technical Services of the Department of Commerce, began the development of the Rapid Selector machine for the electronic searching of information recorded in reels of microfilm. Shaw's device incorporated technology developed by Emanuel Goldberg in 1928-1931, and by Bush starting in 1938. Shaw's Rapid Selector was an attempt to realize goals described in Bush's 1945 publication, As We May Think. Shaw's machine

"was based on the earlier prototype developed from 1938 to 1940 by a team at MIT under Bush's direction. The project manager for the Bush prototype was John H. Howard and the research assistants were Russell C. Coile, John Coombs, Claude Shannon, and Lawrence Steinhardt. Eastman Kodak and National Cash Register each provided $10,000 funding. The project's objective was to develop, within two years, a prototype machine capable of selecting microfilmed business records from microfilm rapidly: A microfilm rapid selector. Bush's selector was indeed rapid because it took advantage of two new developments: Improved photoelectric cell technology; and the stroboscopic lamp pioneered by his colleague Harold E. Edgerton. By creating a bright flash of light lasting only one-millionth of a second, the stroboscopic lamp made it possible to copy a selected microfilm image "on the fly," without stopping the film (and the search) to make a copy. The Bush microfilm selector was never used operationally, except that it seems to have been used for cryptanalysis: It was, after all, designed to be effective at identifying (selecting) every occurrence of a specified code" (http://people.ischool.berkeley.edu/~buckland/goldbush.html, accessed 02-20-2012).

Until December 2013 I was never able to find any truly detailed information on the version of the Rapid Selector built after World War II. I did learn that in 1951 physicist Louis N. Ridenour, librarian, inventor and publisher Ralph R. Shaw, and physicist Albert G. Hill published a thin volume entitled Bibliography in an Age of Science. This book included three lectures delivered at the University of Illinois the previous year, one of which described the Rapid Selector which had been built under Shaw's supervision, asserting that it did operate. This work I came across several years after publishing Origins of Cyberspace and From Gutenberg to the Internet. Shaw's chapter included illustrations on pp. 60-61 of the Rapid Selector prototype which was in operation at this time. This machine stored 72,000 frames of information on a 2,000 foot reel of film. The prototype could search through data at the rate of 78,000 "codes per minute." "Improvement of this searching speed to 120,000 codes per minute is now in sight."

However, further information about Shaw's Rapid Selector in use eluded me for several more years, and I wondered whether it really operated like Shaw claimed. In December 2011 I acquired a copy of Roberto Busa's Varia specimina condordantiarum (Milano, 1951). This bi-lingual work with texts in English and Italian was subtitled, "A First Example of Word Index Automatically Compiled and Printed by IBM Punched Card Machines." Before deciding to employ IBM electric punched card tabulators to produce his concordance Father Busa took the opportunity to see the Rapid Selector in operation at the Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. He wrote that he was able to see it operating in November 1949, and that:

"Its principal feature is the whirlwiind speed with which it explores the reels of microfilm— 10,000 photograms per minute— and instantaneously rephotographs on another microfilm strip all and only those photograms which bear a determined item.

"I shall not give a detailed description because I thought not suitable to apply this system to the composition of concordances; I will only say that, besides not allowing automatic printing of the concordances, such as can be done with the system hereunder, the rapid selector necessitates on the one hand that all the cards, to be made from the sorted microfilm, be of photosensitive paper, and on the other hand all the different words and forms of each word be previously coded, for the entire text must be translated into numerical symbols by hand" (Busa, op cit, 22.)

Then in December 2013 I discovered that the Hathi Trust had digitized and made available Report for the Microfilm Rapid Selector. Contract Cac-47-24. 20 June 1949 published by Engineering Research Associates. This 29-page report with 11 illustrations provided all the detail that one might desire concerning the design and characteristics of the machine, without providing information concerning its efficiency or utility. From the Foreword I quote:

"The incentive for this development arose form a basic need for a more efficient mechanism for organization and dissemination of scientific information. The facilities of the Department of Agriculture Library and the specialized experience of its Librarian and staff fitted the requirement for a testing agency equipped to handle varied categories of technical data in large volumes. Hence, the project developed cooperatively between the Department of Commerce and Agriculture and Engineering Research Associates, Inc.. Specifications for a system meeting the requirements were drawn up by ERA in August, 1947, under the title "General Description and Proposed Technical Specifications for Microfilm Selector'. In general, the machine developed meets the goals set up in that document.

"In brief, the system provides for microfilm storage of abstracts and corresponding code areas by which each abstract may be associated with six different fields of interest. The Microfilm Selector scans the film at the rate of more that 10,000 frames per minute which may correspond to as many as 60,000 subjects per minute. It selects all abstracts which are associated with an interest category specified by the operator, and recopies the selected items on a separate roll of 35mm film by the use of high-speed photoflash techniques. (p. ii)

"Report-Microfilm Rapid Selector

 "This machine is similar in basic concept to a prior experimental development known as the Bush Rapid Selector which was announced by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1940. Several memebers of the ERA staff were engaged in this earlier development, and it was possible to utilize their experience as a starting point in the present project.

"The intent of the original contract (which was to have been concluded by 30 June 1948) was toward the construction of a pilot machine to demonstrate the principles involved. In recognition of the immediate needs of the Department of Commerce Library, however, and as evidence of ERA's special interest in the development, it was decided to continue the work beyond the term and scope of the original contract, at the Contractor's own expense. Thus it was possible to complete a practical working machine which would fully demonstrate the possibilities of the system. The resulting Microfilm Selector (completed 25 January 1949) goes well beyond the requirements of an experimental model; it is, in fact, a close approach to an engineering model.

"At the present time, the Microfilm Selector has not yet been subjected to thorough performance tests. On the basis of preliminary tests, howover, it is considered that all of the important components have been proved fundamentally sound. It would be very surprising if the intitial period of use did not reveal some weaknesses in design and construction, but there is every reason to believe that such faults will be minor in character, and capable of correction without extensive rebuilding or further development." (p. iii).

Hook & Norman, Origins of Cyberspace (2002) no. 244, and other entries.

(This entry was last revised on 01-11-2015.)

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Hitler Seizes Power in Germany and the Nazis Begin Purging Germany of Jews & Jewish Culture, Eventually Burning 100,000,000 Books and Killing About 20 Million People April 6, 1933 – 1945

The ultra-nationalism and antisemitism of German middle-class, secular student organizations had been intense and vocal for decades prior to the rise of Nazism. After World War I, most students opposed the Weimar Republic (1919–1933) and found in National Socialism a suitable vehicle for their political discontent and hostility. After Adolf Hitler seized power on January 30, 1933 German university students became the vanguard of the Nazi movement, and many filled the ranks of various Nazi formations.

Following Hitler's plans, in 1933 Nazi Minister for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda Joseph Goebbels began the synchronization of culture, to bring the arts in Germany in line with Nazi goals. The German government purged cultural organizations of Jews and others alleged to be politically or artistically suspect. On April 6, 1933, the German Student Association's Main Office for Press and Propaganda proclaimed a nationwide “Action against the Un-German Spirit,” to climax in a literary purge or “cleansing” (Säuberung) by fire. Local chapters were to supply the press with releases and commission articles, sponsor well-known Nazi figures to speak at public gatherings, and negotiate for radio broadcast time. On April 8 the students association drafted its twelve "theses"—deliberately evocative of Martin Luther—declarations and requisites of a "pure" national language and culture. Placards publicized the theses, which attacked “Jewish intellectualism,” asserted the need to “purify” the German language and literature, and demanded that universities be centers of German nationalism. The students described the “action” as a response to a worldwide Jewish “smear campaign” against Germany and an affirmation of traditional German values.

On the night of May 10, 1933, in most university towns in Germany, nationalist students marched in torchlight parades "against the un-German spirit." The scripted rituals called for high Nazi officials, professors, rectors, and student leaders to address the participants and spectators. At the meeting places, students threw "un-German" books into the bonfires with great joyous ceremony, band-playing, songs, "fire oaths", and incantations. The students burned upwards of 25,000 volumes of "un-German" books, "presaging an era of state censorship and control of culture." The book burning of May 10 was based on meticulously compiled "black lists" were collected in the spring of 1933 by the Berlin librarian Dr. Wolfgang Herrmann

The formation of the Reichsschrifttumskammer on November 1, 1933 began not only targeted management and monitoring of authors, publishers and booksellers, but expansion of the Herrmann list. By decree of April 25, 1935, the  Reichsschrifttumskammer received the order, "[to compile] a list of such books and records that jeopardize Nazi culture. A first, undisclosed draft was prepared before the end of 1935. Ultimately, the "list of harmful and undesirable writings" consisted of more than 4500 entries, often the entire work of an author or the entire back list of a publisher.

 "Not all book burnings took place on May 10, as the German Student Association had planned. Some were postponed a few days because of rain. Others, based on local chapter preference, took place on June 21, the summer solstice, a traditional date of celebration. Nonetheless, in 34 university towns across Germany the "Action against the Un-German Spirit" was a success, enlisting widespread newspaper coverage. And in some places, notably Berlin, radio broadcasts brought the speeches, songs, and ceremonial incantations "live" to countless German listeners" (United States Holocaust Museum website).

On the night of November 9, 1938—called Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass—92 Jews were murdered, and 25,000–30,000 were arrested and deported to concentration camps. More than 200 Synagogues were destroyed along with tens of thousands of Jewish businesses and homes. This marked the beginning of the Holocaust.

On December 31, 1938 the Reichsministerium fur Volksaufklaerung und Progaganda published the Liste des schädlichen und unerwünschten SchrifttumsThis list of "damaging and undesirable writing" included authors, living and dead, whose works were banned from the Reich because of their Jewish descent, pacifist or communist views, or suspicion thereof.

Between 1933 and 1945, Nazi Germany systematically destroyed an estimated 100 million books throughout occupied Europe, an act inextricably bound up with the murder of 6 million Jews, and millions of other people they considered undesirable. By burning and looting libraries and censoring "un-German" publications, the Nazis aimed to eradicate all traces of Jewish culture along with the Jewish people themselves. 

In March 2011 I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau. You cannot grasp the scale of the Holocaust until you visit Birkenau, especially— a giant factory of death capable of processing 20,000 people per day. The impact of the Holocaust was still reverberating in my head in April 2011 when I wrote this database entry. Needing to understand more, I read Richard Rhodes' book, Masters of Death, from which the horrifying wider scope of the Holocaust, unfolded in my consciousness, and from which I quote: 

“The notorious gas chambers and crematoria of the death camps have come to typify the Holocaust, but in fact they were exceptional. The primary means of mass murder the Nazis deployed during the Second World War was firearms and lethal privation. Shooting was not less efficient than gassing, as many historians have assumed. It was hard on the shooters’ nerves, and the gas vans and chambers alleviated the burden. But shooting began earlier, continued throughout the war and produced far more victims if Slavs are counted, as they must be, as well as Jews. ‘The Nazi regime was the most genocidal the world has ever seen,’ writes sociologist Michael Mann. ’During its short twelve years (overwhelmingly its last four) it killed approximately twenty million unarmed persons. . . . Jews comprised only a third of the victims and their mass murder occurred well into the sequence. . . . Slavs, defined as Untermenschenwere the most numerous victims—3 million Poles, 7 million Soviet citizens and 3.3 million Soviet POWs.’ Even among Jewish victims, Daniel Goldhagen estimates, ‘somewhere between 40 and 50 percent’ were killed ‘by means other than gassing, and more Germans were involved in these killings in a greater variety of contexts than in those carried out in the gas chambers’ ” (Richard RhodesMasters of Death. The SS-Einsatzgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust [2002] 156-157).

In tracing and documenting the crimes committed by the SS summarized in these statistics Rhodes did not intend in any way to diminish the incredible losses suffered by the Jews, nor to blur the particular focus of the Nazis' Final Solution on the Jews. His exploration of SS crimes exposed a scope of criminality that was wider, almost beyond comprehension.

 Rose (ed.), The Holocaust and the Book: Destruction and Preservation (2000).

 (Information adapted from the United States Holocaust Museum website).

(This entry was last revised on 01-17-2015.)

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Bradford's Law January 26, 1934

In a paper entitled "Sources of Information on Specific Subjects," (Engineering 137 [1934], 85-6), British mathematician, librarian and documentalist at the Science Museum in London Samuel C. Bradford published Bradford's Law, also known as  "Bradford's law of scattering" and as the "Bradford distribution," showing the "exponentially diminishing returns of extending a library search."

"In many disciplines this pattern [described by Bradford's Law] is called a Pareto distribution. As a practical example, suppose that a researcher has five core scientific journals for his or her subject. Suppose that in a month there are 12 articles of interest in those journals. Suppose further that in order to find another dozen articles of interest, the researcher would have to go to an additional 10 journals. Then that researcher's Bradford multiplier bm is 2 (i.e. 10/5). For each new dozen articles, that researcher will need to look in bm times as many journals. After looking in 5, 10, 20, 40, etc. journals, most researchers quickly realize that there is little point in looking further.

"Different researchers have different numbers of core journals, and different Bradford multipliers. But the pattern holds quite well across many subjects, and may well be a general pattern for human interactions in social systems. Like Zipf's law, to which it is related, we do not have a good explanation for why it works. But knowing that it does is very useful for librarians. What it means is that for each specialty it is sufficient to identify the core publications' for that field and only stock those. Very rarely will researchers need to go outside that set" (Wikipedia article on Bradford's Law, accessed 02-21-2012).

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H. G. Wells and the "World Brain" November 20, 1936 – 1938

In 1936 H. G. Wells issued a pamphlet of 32 pages entitled The Idea of a World Encyclopaedia, publishing a lecture he had delivered at The Royal Institution on November 20, 1936. The lecture was republished in the United States in the April 1937 issue of Harpers Magazine.  

In 1938 Methuen publishers issued a volume of Wells's essays and speeches on this theme entitled World Brain. In this book his 1936 speech was renamed simply "World Encyclopedia."  The 1938 book included an essay entitled "The Idea of a Permanent World Encyclopaedia." This essay first appeared in the new Encyclopédie Française, August, 1937. Another essay in the book entitled "The Brain Organization of the Modern World" described Wells' vision for

". . .a sort of mental clearing house for the mind, a depot where knowledge and ideas are received, sorted, summarized, digested, clarified and compared." (p. 49)

Wells believed that technological advances such as microfilm could be utilized towards this end so that

"any student, in any part of the world, would be able to sit with his projector in his own study at his or her convenience to examine any book, any document, in an exact replica" (p. 54).

In his ideas for a "mental clearing house" Wells was probably influenced by "Die Brucke" and its Goals for a World Information Clearing House.

Pages 72-73 of World Brain reproduced an early information graphic entitled "Knowledge Correlated through a World Encyclopaedia."

♦Aspects of Wells's vision were eventually realized on the Internet through the Wikipedia in ways that Wells could not have imagined. 

Börner, Atlas of Science: Visualizing What We Know (2010) 25ff.

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Fantasies of an All-Encompassing Archive or "Universal Library" 1939

In 1939 Argentine writer and librarian Jorge Luis Borges in Buenos Aires published an essay entitled La bibliotheca total (The Total Library), describing his fantasy of an all-encompassing archive or universal library.
In Borges' work this universal library was created, remarkably, by an abstract device that produced a random sequence of letters and symbols, ad infinitum. In his essay Borges

"traced the infinite-monkey concept back to Aristotle's Metaphysics. Explaining the views of Leucippus, who held that the world arose through the random combination of atoms, Aristotle notes that the atoms themselves are homogeneous and their possible arrangements only differ in shape, position and ordering. In De Generatione et corruptione (On Generation and Corruption), the Greek philosopher compares this to the way that a tragedy and a comedy consist of the same "atoms", i.e., alphabetic characters. Three centuries later, Cicero's De natura deorum (On the Nature of the Gods) argued against the atomist worldview:

" 'He who believes this may as well believe that if a great quantity of the one-and-twenty letters, composed either of gold or any other matter, were thrown upon the ground, they would fall into such order as legibly to form the Annals of Ennius. I doubt whether fortune could make a single verse of them.'

"Borges follows the history of this argument through Blaise Pascal and Jonathan Swift, then observes that in his own time, the vocabulary had changed. By 1939, the idiom was 'that a half-dozen monkeys provided with typewriters would, in a few eternities, produce all the books in the British Museum.' (To which Borges adds, 'Strictly speaking, one immortal monkey would suffice.') Borges then imagines the contents of the Total Library which this enterprise would produce if carried to its fullest extreme:

" 'Everything would be in its blind volumes. Everything: the detailed history of the future, Aeschylus' The Egyptians, the exact number of times that the waters of the Ganges have reflected the flight of a falcon, the secret and true nature of Rome, the encyclopedia Novalis would have constructed, my dreams and half-dreams at dawn on August 14, 1934, the proof of Pierre Fermat's theorem, the unwritten chapters of Edwin Drood, those same chapters translated into the language spoken by the Garamantes, the paradoxes Berkeley invented concerning Time but didn't publish, Urizen's books of iron, the premature epiphanies of Stephen Dedalus, which would be meaningless before a cycle of a thousand years, the Gnostic Gospel of Basilides, the song the sirens sang, the complete catalog of the Library, the proof of the inaccuracy of that catalog. Everything: but for every sensible line or accurate fact there would be millions of meaningless cacophonies, verbal farragoes, and babblings. Everything: but all the generations of mankind could pass before the dizzying shelves—shelves that obliterate the day and on which chaos lies—ever reward them with a tolerable page' " (Wikipedia article on Infinite Monkey Theorem, accessed 05-25-2009).

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Alfred Wiener Creates the First Holocaust Museum September 1, 1939

On September 1, 1939, the day that German troops marched into Poland, German Jew Alfred Wiener opened the Jewish Central Information Office in London. This library, which was later called the "oldest holocaust museum," functioned during World War II as a private intelligence service, and Wiener was paid by British government departments for keeping them informed of developments in Germany.

In 1919 Wiener was a high-ranking official in the Centralverein deutscher Staatsbürger jüdischen Glaubens (Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith, CV). As early as 1925 he identified the Nazi Party as the chief danger to the Jews of Germany and to German society as a whole. In 1933, Wiener fled Germany for Amsterdam. Together with Prof. David Cohen, he set up the Jewish Central Information Office, collecting and disseminating information about events happening in Nazi Germany. In 1939 Wiener transferred the library to London, and Wiener made the resources available to the British and other governments' intelligence departments, and the international press, especially the BBC. The library soon became known as "Dr Wiener's Library" and the name was adopted. After the end of World War II, the library used its extensive collections on National Socialism and the Third Reich to provide material to the United Nations War Crimes Commission and for bringing war criminals to justice.

In December 2011 the Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust & Genocide moved to 29 Russell Square, a revovated Georgian townhouse flanked by the Birkbeck College history department and the School of Orient and African Studies at the University of London.

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1940 – 1950

Borges' Universe as a Library, or Universal Library or Archive 1941

In 1941 Argentine writer and librarian Jorge Luis Borges published the short story La biblioteca de Babel (The Library of Babel) in his collection of stories entitled El Jardín de senderos que se bifurcan (The Garden of Forking Paths) in Buenos-Aires through the publishing house of Editorial Sur. 

In 1944 the entire 1941 book was included in his Ficciones (1944), through which it received much larger circulation. In 1962 two different English-language translations of The Library of Babel appeared: one by James E. Irby in a collection of Borges's works entitled Labyrinths and the other by Anthony Kerrigan as part of a collaborative translation of the Ficciones. A new translation by Andrew Hurley appeared in 1998 as part of a translation of the Collected Fictions. Hurley's translation of The Library of Babel was republished separately in 2000 by David R. Godine with reproductions of eleven etchings by Erik Desmazières illustrating Borges' text.

Borges' story of a universe in the form of a library, or an imaginary universal library, has been viewed as a fictional or philosophical predictor of characteristics and criticisms of the Internet.

"Borges's narrator describes how his universe consists of an endless expanse of interlocking hexagonal rooms, each of which contains the bare necessities for human survival—and four walls of bookshelves. Though the order and content of the books is random and apparently completely meaningless, the inhabitants believe that the books contain every possible ordering of just a few basic characters (letters, spaces and punctuation marks). Though the majority of the books in this universe are pure gibberish, the library also must contain, somewhere, every coherent book ever written, or that might ever be written, and every possible permutation or slightly erroneous version of every one of those books. The narrator notes that the library must contain all useful information, including predictions of the future, biographies of any person, and translations of every book in all languages. Conversely, for many of the texts some language could be devised that would make it readable with any of a vast number of different contents.

"Despite — indeed, because of — this glut of information, all books are totally useless to the reader, leaving the librarians in a state of suicidal despair. However, Borges speculates on the existence of the 'Crimson Hexagon', containing a book that contains the log of all the other books; the librarian who reads it is akin to God" (Wikipedia article on The Library of Babel, accessed 05-25-2009).

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The Nazis Destroy the National Library of Serbia April 6, 1941

In the German bombing attack on Belgrade on April 6, 1941 4000 people were killed, and more than 8000 buildings were destroyed, including the National Library of Serbia

"This building was built in 1832 and was the only national library attacked on purpose and destroyed in WWII. The entire fund, of 350,000 books, including invaluable medieval manuscripts, was destroyed. The library also housed collections of Ottoman manuscripts, more than 200 old printed books dating from 15th to 17th centuries, old maps, engravings, works of arts and newspapers, including all the books printed in Serbia and neighbouring countries from 1832 on. The fate of Serbia, i.e. the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, had been decided upon with a putsch and protests of 27 March 1941 against the Trilateral Pact, signed by the then government two days before. The protests infuriated Hitler, who, on the same day, decided that, besides Greece, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia should also be destroyed as a state" (Radio Srbija: http://glassrbije.org/E/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=10494&Itemid=32 , accessed 04-06-2010).

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Book-Form Publication of the Library of Congress Catalogue Begins: 167 Volumes Plus 42 Volumes of Supplement 1942 – 1953

Starting in 1942 the Library of Congress published in 167 volumes of reproductions of its printed card catalogue as A Catalog of Books Represented by Library of Congress Printed Cards, issued to July 31, 1942. (1942-46).

In 1948 LC published a 42 volume supplement, and in 1953 a 23 volume supplement.

Breslauer & Folter, Bibliography: Its History and Development [1984] no. 163.

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Using Microforms to Conserve Library Space 1944

In 1944 American writer, poet, editor, inventor, genealogist, librarian and director of Wesleyan's Olin Memorial Library Fremont Rider published The Scholar and the Future of the Research Library.

In this unusually well designed and produced book for its time Rider detailed the increasing shortage of space in research libraries, and described how his invention of the microcard, an opaque microform, would help to solve this problem. He also claimed that American research libraries were doubling in size every sixteen years—an assertion later proved incorrect.

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Repeated Dispersal and Eventual Burning of the Greatest Library in Poland October 1944

During the Warsaw Uprisingin October 1944 the German army destroyed the Załuski Library, the first Polish public library, and the largest library in Poland. "Only 1800 manuscripts and 30,000 printed materials survived."

The Zaluski Library was built in Warsaw from 1747 to 1795 by bishops Józef Andrzej Załuski and his brother, Andrzej Stanisław Załuski. After the Kościuszko Uprising, the Russian troops acting on orders from Czarina Catherine II looted the library and dispatched them to St. Petersburg, where it became a nucleus of the Imperial Public Library, now the National Library of Russia.

"Parts of the collections were damaged or destroyed during the plunder of the library and the subsequent transport. According to the historian Joachim Lelewel, the Zaluskis' books, 'could be bought at Grodno by the basket'."

"The collection was subsequently dispersed among several Russian libraries. Some parts of the Zaluski collection came back to Poland on three separate dates: 1842, 1863.In the 1920s, in the aftermath of the Polish-Soviet War and the Treaty of Riga the Soviet Union government returned around 50,000 items from the collection to Poland" (Wikipedia article on the Zaluski Library, accessed 12-02-2008).

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Bombing of Dresden Destroys Books and Manuscripts February – March 1945

With the onset of World War II, the most precious holdings of the Sächsische Landesbibliothek at Dresden were dispersed to eighteen castles and offices. As a result they largely survived the bombing raids of February and March 1945 on this major industrial center by the British and American Air Forces.

However, the raids destroyed the former library buildings and virtually the whole historic center of Dresden— with losses of about 200,000 volumes of twentieth-century manuscript and printed holdings. The losses included  irreplaceable musical manuscripts, including the major corpus of Tomasso Albinoni's unpublished music, though Georg Philipp Telemann's manuscripts were preserved. After the war, some 250,000 books from the library were taken to Russia.

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One of the Earliest Attempts at Automating Information Retrieval April 1949 – January 1953

In April 1949 physician and medical librarian at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Sanford Larkey, published The Army Medical Library Research Project at the Welch Medical Library. This was one of the first reports on one of the earliest projects in automating information retrieval, the expression for which was coined by Calvin Mooers the following year. 

From Larkey's 1949 report I quote:

"The use of machine methods may appear somewhat Utopian but one must look to the possibilities of the future. As present the machines are in a sense ahead of our ideas as to how they can be used and we must determine what we want them to do. Machines can probably be designed to do what we desire but it must be determined how well they do it and if it is worth doing, in terms of cost, in terms of the needs of medical research, and in light of the operating policies of the Army Medical Library and of the various indexing services.

"One of the most important features of machine operation is the working out of a coding systme that will be complete enough and at the same specific enough. Classified and alphabetical bases for coding will studied and a tentative coding system developed. Using this coding system, pilot runs of controlled material will be set up on IBM equipment and the results compared with bibliographies prepared by careful direct analysis of the material. Further pilot runs will be made using other types of machine methods. From these studies it is hoped that some conclusions can be drawn as to the practicability of the use of machine methods in indexing services or as supplementary to them" (pp. 123-24).

In January 1953 Larkey issued an extended update on progress made entitled "The Welch Medical Library Indexing Project." This is available from PubMedCentral at this link.

(This entry was last revised in December 2016.)

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1950 – 1960

Compiling a Bibliography by Electric Punched Card Tabulating 1950

In 1950 the Library of Congress announced plans to compile the Union List of Serials using electric punched card tabulating.

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The Coordinate and Uniterm Indexing Systems 1951

The tremendous explosion of scientific literature during and after World War II overwhelmed manual indexing and retrieval methods. To meet the need for greater control over the mushrooming expansion of information American librarian Mortimer Taube developed the system (and later the theory) of Coordinate Indexing, and helped to establish its use as a major tool in automated library searches and documentation. Taube defined coordinate indexing as “the analysis of any field of information into a set of terms and the combination of these terms in any order to achieve any desired degree of detail in either indexing or selection."

Taube, "Coordinate Indexing of Scientific Fields." Paper delivered at the Symposium on Mechanical Aids to Chemical Documentation, Division of Chemical Literature, American Chemical Society, New York, Sept. 4, 1951. 

"Coordinate Indexing used 'uniterms' to make storing and retrieving information easier and faster. Uniterms 'constitute a special set of rules and requirements which makes both the analysis into terms and the combination of the terms in order to specify items of information a remarkably simple and efficient process.' Taube had split coordinate indexing into two categories, item and term indexing. It used punch cards and a machine reader to search for specific items or documents by terms or keywords....(Wikipedia article on Mortimer Taube, accessed 03-02-2012).

In 1952, with Gerald J. Sophar, Taube founded Documentation, Inc. There he developed automated data processing centers for handling scientific and technical information. In December 2013, when I wrote this entry, Documentation, Inc. was the earliest company of which I was aware, that was formed specifically for the purpose of automating library and documentation searches. After the foundation of NASA in 1958 Documentation, Inc. operated a technical center for NASA which provided NASA with a combination abstract and citation journal with a machine-produced index covering NASA reports and aquisitions, regular bibliographies in certain areas of aeronautuc and space sciences, microfilm reproductions of NASA reports, a high-speed reference service, and magnetic copies of the index to the total NASA collection. The company, which eventually employed 700 people, also produced Computexts, a series on magnetic tape designed for computer print-out of selected materials, offered for sale.

To automate the search process Taube developed the IBM 9900 Special Index Analyzer called COMAC (Continuous Multiple Access Collator). This was a punched card collator that tracked logical relationships among subject terms. Used with the IBM 9900, the IBM 305 RAMAC printed out results from searches of subject terms. Documentation Inc. eventually switched from the RAMAC to the lower cost IBM 1401.

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Information Retrieval vs. Information Warehousing 1951

In 1951 Calvin N. Mooers, whose Zator Company was the first information retrieval company, and who had coined the term "information retrieval" in 1950, issued a report entitled Making Information Retrieval Pay, Zator Technical Bulletin 55.

From this report I quote:


"Information retreival must be distinguished from another operation performed on information. This is the 'information warehousing' operation, which is the orderly receipt, cataloguing and storage of information. Almost every library does a highly efficient and satisfactory job of information warehousing. This is fortunate, since successful operation of information retrieval--discovery and use of information--depends upon competent information warehousing. On the other hand, merely to warehouse a large collection of information does little to aid the User to discover the information he needs. Here we have a prevalent fallacy of the libraries."(p.3)

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Applying Computer Methods to Library Cataloguing and Research June 24 – June 27, 1952

At a meeting of the Medical Library Association that took place from June 24-27, 1952 physician and librarian Sanford Larkey reported on progress in the Welch Medical Library Indexing Project which had begun in 1949. This project was probably the earliest attempt to apply punched card tabulating in library cataloguing and information retrieval.

"The goal of the project, of which I was a member until its termination in 1953, was to develop computer-derived indexes to the scientific and medical literature. This mechanization of bibliographic information involved the use of IBM tabulating equipment designed for statistical analysis. The Welch project used standard punched-card machines to
prepare subject-heading lists for the Armed Forces Medical Library, the precursor to the National Library of Medicine (E. Garfield, "The preparation of subject-heading lists by automatic punched-card techniques," Journal of Documentation, 10:1-10, 1954)" (Garfield, "Tribute to Calvin N. Mooers, A Pioneer of Information Retrieval", The Scientist, Vol11, #6 (March 17, 1997) 9).

In Larkey's 1952 report there is a very interesting section which he called the "Psychology of Machines", which I quote:

"I think I should say something about 'machines' themselves at this point. Since we are using machines in all the major phases of our work, I should like to describe the machines we are using and just how we are using them. I will discuss the present status of each phase of our work primarily on the basis of the machine operations involved. Another reason for this approach is that we are have found in discussing our program with others, our use of machines seems either to interest or worry people more than any other feature.

"This brings me to what might be called the 'psychology of machines.' The very word 'machines' seems to do things to people. We hear talk of 'electronic robots,' as though they were some sort of 'men from Mars' who could take over all intellectual activities by merely pushing buttons. This sort of talk leads to excessive hopes or to inordinate fears and precludes objective thinking about the possible uses of machines. One should consider machines as practice adjuncts, as we do typewriters, 3 x 5 cards, and visible indexes. Machines are only doing very rapidly what one could do with his own eyes and brain if had all the time in the world to do it and wanted to do it. There is no magic about it.

"There is, however, a more valid psychological aspect to machines. Since machines operate on a strict yes-or-no principle, we must be rigidly exact in presenting a problem. Each step must be in the most precise logical form, since one rarely can stop to correct as one goes along. Each step must be gone over and over in relation to every other one. One has to think not once, but many times. Programming often takes almost as long as the machine operation itself, but the end result is still reached much more quickly than by manual operations.

"These strict limitations of machines have been very useful to us. They not only have tightened up our own thinking processes, but their application has emphasized many semantic inconsistencies in our terminology and classifications. So, perhaps there may be a good psychological side to machines." (pp. 33-34).

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Ray Bradbury's Early Dystopian View of Books: "Fahrenheit 451" 1953 – November 2011

Having written the entire book on a pay typewriter in the basement of UCLA's Powell Library, in 1953 Ray Bradbury published the dystopian science fiction novel Fahrenheit 451, named after the temperature at which books are supposed to combust spontaneously. Besides the regular trade edition, the publisher, Ballantine Books, issued a limited edition of 200 copies signed by Bradbury and bound in white boards made of "Johns-Manville Quinterra," a fire-proof asbestos material.

"The novel presents a future American society in which the masses are hedonistic, and critical thought through reading is outlawed. The central character, Guy Montag, is employed is a 'fireman' (which, in this future, means 'book burner'). The number '451' refers to the temperature (in Fahrenheit) at which the books burn when the 'Firemen' burn them 'For the good of humanity'. Written in the early years of the Cold War, the novel is a critique of what Bradbury saw as an increasingly dysfunctional American society.

Bradbury's original intention in writing Fahrenheit 451 was to show his great love for books and libraries. "He has often referred to Montag as an allusion to himself" (Wikipedia article on Fahrenheit 451).

François Truffaut and Jean-Louis Richard wrote a screenplay based on the novel, and Truffault directed a film, released in 1966, entitled Fahrenheit 451, starring Julie Christie and Oskar Werner. The film was re-issued on DVD by Universal Studios in 2003.

♦ After publically opposing ebooks for several years, telling The New York Times in 2009 that "that the Internet is a big distraction," in November 2011, at the age of 91, Bradbury authorized an ebook edition of Fahrenheit 451, and several other of his best-selling books. By this date Fahrenheit 451 had sold more than 10 million copies in print, and had been translated into many languages. Also by this date, ebooks comprised 20% of the fiction book market in the U.S. 

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"Once the government can demand of a publisher the names of the purchasers of his publications, the free press as we know it disappears." March 9, 1953

In United States v. [Edward] Rumely 345 U.S. 41 (73 S.Ct. 543, 97 L.Ed. 770), decided on March 9, 1953, Justice William O. Douglas, in his concurrence, included the following: 

“If the present inquiry were sanctioned the press would be subjected to harassment that in practical effect might be as serious as censorship. A publisher, compelled to register with the federal government, would be subjected to vexatious inquiries. A requirement that a publisher disclose the identity of those who buy his books, pamphlets, or papers is indeed the beginning of surveillance of the press. True, no legal sanction is involved here. Congress has imposed no tax, established no board of censors, instituted no licensing system. But the potential restraint is equally severe. The finger of government leveled against the press is omnious. Once the government can demand of a publisher the names of the purchasers of his publications, the free press as we know it disappears. Then the specter of a government agent will look over the shoulder of everyone who reads. The purchase of a book or pamphlet today may result in a subpoena tomorrow. Fear of criticism goes with every person into the bookstall. The subtle, imponderable pressures of the orthodox lay hold. Some will fear to read what is unpopular what the powers-that-be dislike. When the light of publicity may reach any student, any teacher, inquiry will be discouraged. The books and pamphlets that are critical of the administration, that preach an unpopular policy in domestic or foreign affairs, that are in disrepute in the orthodox school of thought will be suspect and subject to investigation. The press and its readers will pay a heavy price in harassment. But that will be minor in comparison with the menace of the shadow which government will cast over literature that does not follow the dominant party line. If the lady from Toledo can be required to disclose what she read yesterday and what she will read tomorrow, fear will take the place of freedom in the libraries, bookstores, and homes of the land. Through the harassment of hearings, investigations, reports, and subpoenas government will hold a club over speech and over the press. Congress could not do this by law. The power of investigation is also limited.”

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Early Library Information Retrieval System 1954

In 1954 Harley Tillet built the perhaps the first operating library information retrieval system on a general purpose computer (IBM 701) at the Naval Ordnance Test Station (NOTS) at Inyokern, California, later called China Lake.

"Searching started with a file of about 15,000 bibliographic records, indexed only by the Uniterms, and search output was limited to report accession numbers. The task was made even more difficult by the fact that the IBM 701, a scientific calculator, did not have any built-in character representation" (Bourne).

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Probably the First Widely-Accepted Controlled Vocabulary 1954 – 1960

Probably the first widely used controlled vocabulary for searching information was the Subject Heading Authority List issued by the National Library of Medicine from 1954 to 1960.

"The first official list of subject headings published by the National Library of Medicine appeared in 1954 under the title Subject Heading Authority List. It was based on the internal authority list that had been used for publication of Current List of Medical Literature which in turn had incorporated headings from the Library's Index-Catalogue and from the 1940 Quarterly Cumulative Index Medicus Subject Headings. With the inception of Index Medicus in 1960, a new and thoroughly revised Medical Subject Headings [MeSH] appeared.

"With the 1954 Subject Heading Authority List, there appeared a 'Categorical Listing' of standard subheadings. 'Abnormalities,' for instance, was listed as a standard subheading for use with terms for organs, tissues, and regions, and 'anesthesia and analgesia' was to be used under surgical procedure headings. But such subheadings could be used only for subject headings which fell within the category of headings to which they were to be applied. There were over 100 such subheadings, some of which varied only slightly according to the category of main heading with which they were used. For instance, 'therapeutic use' was used under physical agents and drugs and chemicals, and 'therapy' was used with diseases. In the 1960 Medical Subject Headings, the number of subheadings was reduced to sixty-seven. They could be used under any kind of main heading if the combination was not patently foolish or impossible. These sixty-seven subheadings were applied with more generalized meanings. For instance, the subheading "therapy" was used to mean 'therapy of,' 'therapeutic use of' or just 'therapeutic aspects.' Though this solution was simpler, many problems still remained. The use of one subheading might prevent the use of another. For instance, if a paper covered the etiology, pathology, and therapy of a disease, it might occur without further subdivision, or it might occur under the subheading which seemed most appropriate to the indexer. If 'therapy' was chosen, the article would be lost to the searcher looking for the etiology of the disease under the subheading 'etiology.' In addition, if the subheading 'diseases' had been appended to the term for an anatomic part, it would not be possible to subdivide further for the therapy or complications of such diseases. A related problem was the overlap in meaning of the subheadings themselves. It was difficult, for example, to decide whether a paper on chemical biosynthesis fit best under 'chemistry' or 'metabolism.'

"Categorized lists of terms were printed for the first time in the 1963 Medical Subject Headings and contained thirteen main categories and a total of fifty-eight separate groups in subcategories and main categories. These categorized lists made it possible for the user to find many more related terms than were in the former cross-reference structure. In 1963, the second edition of Medical Subject Headings contained 5,700 descriptors, compared with 4,400 in the 1960 edition. Of the headings used in the 1960 list, 113 were withdrawn in favor of newer terms. In contrast, the 2009 edition of MeSH contains 25,186 descriptors.

"In 1960, medical librarianship was on the cusp of a revolution. The first issue of the new Index Medicus series was published. On the horizon was a computerization project undertaken by the National Library of Medicine (NLM) to store and retrieve information. The Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System (MEDLARS) would speed the publication process for bibliographies such as Index Medicus, facilitate the expansion of coverage of the literature, and permit searches for individuals upon demand. The new list of subject headings introduced in 1960 was the underpinning of the analysis and retrieval operation. MeSH was a new and thoroughly revised version of lists of subject headings compiled by NLM for its bibliographies and cataloging. Frank B. Rogers, then NLM director, announced several innovations as he introduced MeSH in 1960" (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/mesh/2009/introduction/intro_preface.html#pref_hist. accessed 05-04-2009).

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Machine Methods for Information Searching 1955

On the completion of the Welch Medical Library Indexing Project, five authors, including Eugene Garfield, issued  the Final Report on Machine Methods for Information Searching.

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The Foundation of Citation Analysis July 15, 1955

Eugene Garfield published "Citation Indexes for Science: A New Dimension in Documentation through Association of Ideas," Science, Vol. 122, No. 3159, 108-11. This paper may be the foundation of "bibliometrics" or citation analysis.

"Eugene Garfield . . . was deeply involved in the research relating to machine generated indexes in the mid-1950's and early 1960's. One of his earliest points of involvement was a project sponsored by the Armed Forces Medical Library (predecessor to our current National Library of Medicine). The Welch Medical Library Indexing project, as it was called, was to investigate the role of automation in the organization and retrieval of medical literature. The hope was that the problems associated with subjective human judgement in selection of descriptors and indexing terms could be eliminated. By removing the human element, one might thereby increase the speed with which information was incorporated in to the indexes. It might also increase the cost-effectiveness of the indexes. Garfield grasped early on that review articles in the journal literature were heavily reliant on the bibliographic citations that referred the reader to the original published source for the notable idea or concept. By capturing those citations, Garfield believed, the researcher could immediately get a view of the approach taken by another scientist to support an idea or methodology based on the sources that the published writer had consulted and cited as pertinent in the bibliography. As retrieval terms, citations could function as well as keywords and descriptors that were thoughtfully assigned by a professional indexer."

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Standing up to Censorship and McCarthyism During the "Second Red Scare" 1956

In 1956 Storm Center, an American drama film directed by screenwriter Daniel Taradash, from a screenplay by Taradash and Elick Moll, and starring Bette Davis as the librarian, Alicia Hull, was first overtly anti-McCarthyism film to be produced in Hollywood during the height of the "Second Red Scare" (late 1940s through late 1950s).  During the Second Red Scare hundreds of Hollywood entertainment professionals lost their jobs as a result of the unofficial Hollywood blacklist, and thousands of people in other occupations also lost jobs.

"Alicia Hull is a widowed small town librarian dedicated to introducing children to the joy of reading. In exchange for fulfilling her request for a children's wing, the city council asks her to withdraw the book The Communist Dream from the library's collection. When she refuses to comply with their demand, she is fired and branded as a subversive. Judge Ellerbe feels she has been treated unfairly and calls a town meeting. Ambitious attorney and aspiring politician Paul Duncan, who is dating assistant librarian Martha Lockeridge, uses the meeting as an opportunity to make a name for himself by denouncing Alicia as a Communist. His forceful rhetoric turns the entire town, with the exception of young Freddie Slater, against her. The boy, increasingly upset by the mistreatment his mentor is suffering and affected by the influence of his narrow-minded father, finally turns on her himself and sets the library on fire. His action causes the residents to have a change of heart, and they ask Alicia to return and supervise the construction of a new building" (Wikipedia article on Storm Center, accessed 05-30-2009).

Raven, "Introduction: The Resonances of Loss," (Raven [ed.] Lost Libraries. The Destruction of Great Book Collections Since Antiquity [2004] 31).

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Mechanized Encoding of Library Information 1957

In 1957 Hans Peter Luhn of IBM published "A Statistical Approach to Mechanized Encoding of Library Information," IBM Journal of Research and Development I (1957) no. 4, 309-317, issued by the IBM T. J. Watson Research Center, Yorktown Heights, New York.


"Written communication of ideas is carried out on the basis of statistical probability in that a writer chooses that level of subject specificity and that combination of words which he feels will convey the most meaning. Since this process varies among individuals and since similar ideas are therefore relayed at different levels of specificity and by means of different words, the problem of literature searching by machines still presents major difficulties. A statistical approach to this problem will be outlined and the various steps of a system based on this approach will be described. Steps include the statistical analysis of a collection of documents in a field of interest, the establishment of a set of “notions” and the vocabulary by which they are expressed, the compilation of a thesaurus-type dictionary and index, the automatic encoding of documents by machine with the aid of such a dictionary, the encoding of topological notations (such as branched structures), the recording of the coded information, the establishment of a searching pattern for finding pertinent information, and the programming of appropriate machines to carry out a search."

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The Movie "Desk Set", Satirizing the Role of Automation in Eliminating Jobs, and Librarians 1957

The romantic comedy film, Desk Set, brought to the silver screen in 1957, was the first film to dramatize and satirize the role of automation in eliminating traditional jobs. The name of the computer in the film, EMERAC, and its room-size installation, was an obvious take-off on UNIVAC, the best-known computer at the time. In the film, the computer was brought-in to replace the library of books, and its staff—an early foreshadowing of the physical information versus digital information issue.  Directed by Walter Lang and starring Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Gig Young, Joan Blondell, and Dina Merrill, the screenplay was written by Phoebe Ephron and Henry Ephron from the play by William Marchant.

The film "takes place at the "Federal Broadcasting Network" (exterior shots are of Rockefeller Center, in New York City, headquarters of NBC). Bunny Watson (Katharine Hepburn) is in charge of its reference library, which is responsible for researching and answering questions on all manner of topics, such as the names of Santa's reindeer. She has been involved for seven years with network executive Mike Cutler (Gig Young), with no marriage in sight.

"The network is negotiating a merger with another company, but is keeping it secret. To help the employees cope with the extra work that will result, the network head has ordered two computers (called "electronic brains" in the film). Richard Sumner (Spencer Tracy), the inventor of EMERAC and an efficiency expert, is brought in to see how the library functions, to figure out how to ease the transition. Though extremely bright, as he gets to know Bunny, he is surprised to discover that she is every bit his match.

"When they find out the computers are coming, the employees jump to the conclusion the machines are going to replace them. Their fears seem to be confirmed when everyone on the staff receives a pink slip printed out by the new payroll computer. Fortunately, it turns out to be a mistake; the machine fired everybody in the company, including the president" Wikipedia article on Desk Set, accessed 12-23-2008).

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Hans Peter Lund of IBM Develops an Automatic Document Indexing Program 1958

In 1958 Hans Peter Luhn of IBM developed an automatic document indexing program for the production of literature abstracts.

"The complete text of an article in machine-readable form is scanned by an IBM 704 data-processing machine and analyzed in accordance with a standard program. Statistical information derived from word frequency and distribution is used by the machine to compute a relative measure of significance, first for individual words and then for sentences. Sentences scoring highest in significance are extracted and printed out to become the "auto-abstract."

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The Most Voluminous Printed Catalogue of a Single Library 1959 – 1972

From 1959 to 1966 the British Museum (now the British Library) published its General Catalogue of Printed Books. Photolithographic Edition to 1955 in 263 folio volumes from 1959 to 1966. These volumes reproduced the catalogue cards of 4,350,000 items. In 1971 and 1972 the BM issued a Ten-Year Supplement, 1956-1970 in 23 volumes. This set of nearly 300 folio volumes was the "most voluminous" printed catalogue of a single library ever published in print.

Breslauer & Folter, Bibliography: Its History and Development (1984) no. 109.

Between 1967 and 1980 Readex Microprint of New York issued the Compact Edition of the entire British Museum Catalogue in a microprint edition (8 or 10 volumes in one). This was complete in 37 volumes, occupying 7 feet of shelf space. When it was published this was widely viewed as a very valuable reference source, and many antiquarian booksellers, such as myself, bought it.  However, I don't think we ever got much use out of it, and it was one of the first large sets we sold when it was evident that online resources would replace sets of this kind. In November 2013 the value of the Microprint Edition was limited. A colleague, Ian Jackson, offered a set for $100 in Cedules from a Berkeley Bookshop, No. 28.  (Readex Microprint evolved into Readex, an online publisher of mainly of historical source materials in digital form.)

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1960 – 1970

The National Library of Medicine Introduces Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) 1960

In 1960 the National Library of Medicine introduced Medical Subject Headings (MeSH), a comprehensive controlled vocabulary for the purpose of indexing journal articles and books in the life sciences. MeSH serves as a thesaurus that facilitates searching; it is used by the MEDLINE/PubMed article database and by NLM's catalog of book holdings. 

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Inforonics Develops One of the First Data Publishing and Retrieval Systems 1962

Inforonics, founded in 1962 by MIT graduate Larry Buckland in Littleton, Massachusetts, developed and maintained "one of the first data publishing and retrieval systems used by organizations such as the U.S. Library of Congress and the Boston Public Library."

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The Beinicke Rare Book & Manuscript Library Opens at Yale October 14, 1963

On October 14, 1963 the Beinicke Rare Book & Manuscript Library opened at Yale University. Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Gordon Bunshaft of the firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, it is the largest building in the world reserved exclusively for the preservation of rare books and manuscripts. In my opinion it is the also greatest and most dramatic "temple" devoted to the display, study and preservation of rare books and manuscripts built at a university in the twentieth century.

Like the Printing and the Man of Man exhibition which coincidentally occurred in London in July 1963, the opening of the Beinicke Library reflected one of the historical peaks of recognition of the role of the physical book in the creation, distribution and storage of information.

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Science Citation Index 1964

IN 1964 Eugene Garfield and the Institute for Scientific Information published the first Science Citation Index in five printed volumes, indexing 613 journals and 1.4 million citations, using the method of citation analysis.

Two years later Science Citation Index became available on magnetic tape.

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MEDLARS: The First Large Scale Computer-Based Retrospective Search Service Available to the General Public January 1964

In January 1964 Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System (MEDLARS) was operational at the National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, Maryland.

MEDLARS was the first large scale, computer-based, retrospective search service available to the general public.  It was also the first major machine-readable database and batch-retrieval system.

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Licklider Issues "Libraries of the Future" 1965

In 1965 J.C.R. Licklider, Director of Project MAC (Machine-Aided Cognition and Multiple-Access Computers) at MIT and Professor of Electrical Engineering at MIT, published Libraries of the Future